Bus operators paid for free travel scheme but not providing service, FF claims

Howlin says review of the scheme will deal with fraud, cost and value for money

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said there was a “compelling case” for a review of the scheme. Photograph: Frank Miller

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said there was a “compelling case” for a review of the scheme. Photograph: Frank Miller

Wed, Jul 9, 2014, 20:42

Some bus operators receive full payment for the free travel scheme but do not provide the service, Fianna Fáil has claimed.

In other cases operators are refusing to accept the free travel bus pass from pensioners and were withdrawing from the scheme, it was alleged.

Public expenditure spokesman Seán Fleming said payments to various bus contractors under the scheme had been set for a number of years. “Some of them including the main State provider Bus Éireann have cut some of their routes,” bypassed towns and used motorways instead.

Thousands of people no longer had access to these services Mr Fleming said, but while the operator cut services, “it is still receiving the full payment under the scheme”.

During public expenditure and reform question time in the Dáil, he asked if the Minister would lift restrictions on supports for the scheme since Ireland was no longer in the bailout scheme.

The State spends €77 million annually towards the free travel scheme for the over-65s and a review of the system is under way, although Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton insisted in the Dáil that the scheme would not be touched.

Mr Fleming said recently operators in Co Donegal “have spoken about not accepting the bus pass on some of their routes and withdrawing the scheme because of the conditions the Minister has attached to it”.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said he had no control over the routes operators used but these instances showed the “compelling case” for a review of the scheme, to deal with the potential for fraud and to ensure the scheme was being properly utilised and delivering value for money for the State.