A NINETY-YEAR-OLD widow has told how she would be confined to her home if her free travel pass were taken from her as part of possible cuts to the Free Travel Scheme.
Peggy McCarthy travels by bus each day from her home on Collins Avenue, Whitehall.
The active nonagenarian enjoys a very independent life thanks to the free travel pass she has been entitled to for over two decades.
She now fears for her quality of life if possible cuts to the scheme are introduced.
“I get the bus every day and have done all my life practically,” Ms McCarthy told Northside People.
“I was never one to get a taxi. I’d rather put that money towards something else.
“I had a fall a couple of weeks ago so I’m being very careful not to walk too much since.
“My nearest bus stop is only 100 metres from my house so I get the bus pretty much everywhere I want to go.”
Ms McCarthy had just hours earlier taken the number 14 bus home from town where she also used the Luas to get around the city centre.
“When I first got the travel pass I was a bit embarrassed but now I couldn’t live without it,” she explained.
“The paths are so bad and the roads are so dangerous that I don’t have any other choice and I couldn’t afford to get taxis whenever I want to leave my house.”
The Free Travel Scheme is available to people 66 years or over, to all carers in receipt of carers’ allowance and people in receipt of disability allowance and invalidity pension.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection confirmed that a review of the scheme is currently underway.
“The purpose of this review is to examine and report on the current operation and future development of the scheme,” the spokesperson told Northside People.
“The review is in the early stages. The department appreciates the important role that free travel plays in promoting social inclusion and preventing the isolation of older people.
“There is currently in excess of 720,000 customers eligible for free travel and when spousal/companion passes are taken into account, there are over 1.1 million customers with free travel eligibility.
“The cost of the Free Travel Scheme has risen substantially over the last 10 years from e45.8 million for almost 608,000 customers in 2001 to over e75 million for over 726,000 customers in 2011.
“The funding for the scheme has been frozen at 2010 levels of expenditure as set by the previous Government in the National Recovery Plan 2011 – 2014.”
The spokesperson added: “Throughout 2011 a number of the companies participating in the scheme put requests to the department for increases but the line was maintained that no additional funding could be made available.”
Clontarf ward councillor Deirdre Heney (FF) said the prospect of cuts to the scheme must be “sending a shiver down the spine of every pensioner and indeed any others who qualify for the scheme”.
“The introduction of this travel scheme in 1967, followed soon after by the free electricity and gas units, was one of the great social decisions of the last 50 years and transformed the lives of pensioners and others for the better,” stated Cllr Heney.
“The free travel pass is a real benefit to older people and allows them to lead active lives.
“Access to transport is a quality of life issue and plays a major part in helping our senior citizens avoid social isolation and loneliness.”