The Free Travel scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators. There are currently approximately 1,003,000 customers with direct eligibility. The estimated expenditure on free travel in 2021 is €95 million.
While the Report of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport that the Deputy refers to did recommend uncoupling the link between receipt of particular social welfare payments and eligibility for the free travel scheme, it did not specifically recommend a cost analysis of establishing the free travel scheme as a standalone directly applicable benefit.
In any event, as explained in response to Parliamentary Question 251 of 8 July 2021, it would not be possible for my Department to conduct such a cost analysis on the basis of the Report as my Department would need in-depth details of any proposed changes including, but not limited to, the new qualifying criteria which would be envisaged as being applicable for the scheme; any processes, systems or dependencies associated with such criteria; the type of travel pass that would be issued in particular circumstances (e.g., single or companion pass etc.); the services to which the revised free travel pass would apply; the number of journeys made using the free travel pass and the means by which this would be assessed; the prevailing fares; and the type of journeys undertaken, i.e., rail, bus or Luas, etc.
Furthermore, implementation of the proposed recommendation would entail a fundamental change to the very nature of the free travel scheme and a significant increase in the numbers qualifying for the scheme – beyond the customer base of the Department – the details of which would not be available to this Department. In essence, uncoupling the link between receipt of particular social welfare payments and eligibility for the free travel scheme would so fundamentally alter the scheme that it would move it away from the Department of Social Protection to become a general transport initiative.
It could also be expected that extensive negotiations, including negotiations around levels of recompense would have to be undertaken with transport operators to ensure their continued participation in such a considerably revised scheme.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.