Free travel scheme for the elderly safe for now
Published 01/09/2015 | 02:30
Existing free travel arrangements for senior citizens will not be cut back, according to government sources.
State transport providers want the facility to be restricted during rush-hour periods on the grounds of cost.
Already 11 private transport operators have withdrawn from some routes because they claim they are not financially viable. A further 14 private sectors operators have left the scheme altogether.
The numbers availing of the scheme have increased dramatically in recent years.
A total of 1.2 million people - or 25pc of the population - are now eligible to travel free on public and on some private transport. But overall funding for the scheme at €77m has remained static for the past five years.
The Government has ordered a review which will consider its future operation.
However, a spokeswoman for the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton insisted existing free travel arrangements will not be "undermined".
"Having fully protected the free travel scheme during difficult budgets - and now that there is room for investment in services generally - the free travel scheme will be protected and not be undermined in any way," she told the Irish Independent.
Older people's charity Age Action warned of serious repercussions for those trying to get to hospital appointments should restrictions be introduced.
"Many elderly people are entirely dependent on their travel pass to get to and from hospital," said spokesman, Justin Moran.
"The HSE have also made it clear that restricting older people from using their pass during peak travel times makes it difficult to schedule appointments."
He pointed out a recent study conducted by Age Action found that 57pc of elderly respondents use their travel pass to attend health or medical appointments.
With funding frozen for the past five years, and an ongoing review still underway, Age Action is still worried about the long term future of the scheme.