Numbers qualifying for free travel rising every year
Government report warned scheme needed increased funding or significant reforms to ensure its viability
The report said free travel could be “a passport to leisure, time with family, for some a way to get to work and others to help them attend their hospital appointments”
More than 1.2 million people are entitled to free travel and the numbers qualifying for the scheme are rising every year, an internal Government report has said.
The report, finalised in October 2014, warned the scheme needed increased funding or significant reforms to ensure its viability.
It said that, as of July 2014, there were 799,672 people with a free travel pass. When passes for their spouses or companions – given to those who have difficulty travelling on their own – are included, this rises to “1.2 million people with free travel eligibility”.
The number availing of the scheme increased rapidly in the years leading up to the report. In 2007, excluding spousal and companion passes, 637,312 people received free travel. This rose every year until it hit just below 800,000 in July 2014.
Of those availing of free travel, 48 per cent are in receipt of the State pension, 21 per cent get a disability payment, 11 per cent get the widow’s pension and 7 per cent are carers. The remaining 13 per cent are classified as “others” by the report.
The cost of the scheme rose from €55 million in 2005 to €75 million in 2013. The report said that while transport costs were the main reason for the increase in the past, future increases would be driven by an ageing population.
At the time the current Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar was minister for transport. He said the report was not published because the then Fine Gael-Labour government decided the scheme “should not be touched”.
“As transport minister at the time, I strongly supported that view. I remain a huge supporter of the free travel scheme. It provides free travel for almost a million pensioners, carers and people with disabilities. It is funded by my department, and covers Luas, privately-operated public bus routes and island air transport as well as CIÉ.”
He said an extra €3 million was allocated to the scheme in 2016 to cover new operators. No new money, however, was allocated for this year.
“The budget for 2017 is done so any further increase can only be considered in the context of budget 2018. I would have to be satisfied that any increase paid to the operator would be used to fund new and more frequent services for passengers and not anything else.”
The report also found that, as well as an increase in the number of pensioners, there have been “significant increases” in the number of passes issued to people in receipt of disability or carer’s welfare payments.
The report also acknowledges the social benefits of the scheme, and says “it is a support which is held in the highest regard and valued even by those who rarely use it”.
It adds: “It is a passport to leisure, time with family, for some a way to get to work and others to help them attend their hospital appointments. It has something of a totemic quality, a reward deserved by age and contribution to society, and for many people a life-enhancing support that goes beyond the term ‘social inclusion’.”
A previous survey found that 21 per cent of people “rarely or never use” their travel pass.