Bus and rail passengers increase but investment failing to keep pace with demand - Translink

The Enterprise refurbisment was highlighed in Translink's annual report
Gail Bell

TRANSLINK needs £12 million to cover its loss-making routes which, up until now, have been sustained from the company's own reserves, CEO Chris Conway warned this week.

The company said its government funding has fallen by almost £16m, or 20 per cent since 2013/14.

Operating loss before tax for 2016/17 was £10.9 million, reflecting the "significant reduction" in compensation paid to Translink for routes which are operated as a "public service obligation", Mr Conway said at the launch of the company's annual report on Wednesday.

However, despite the funding challenges, the transport chief presented what he said was a "good set of results", with fare-paying passenger numbers increasing by over 1.5 million and consolidated revenues of £205.2 million - up £2.3 million on last year.

There were almost 80 million passenger journeys carried last last year – an increase of over 1.5 million – with over 500,000 passengers choosing bus or rail services so far this year.

"Last year's strong performance, exceeding our (one million) growth target with over 1.5 million fare-paying passengers, is a result of a strong focus on customer service and value-for-money fares," Mr Conway said.

"This has been supported by investment in a number of service enhancements and has helped to further change attitudes towards public transport and encourage more people to 'Get on Board'."

The 'Get on Board' strategy centres around Translink's vision to be 'First Choice for Travel' in Northern Ireland and is aimed at growing passenger numbers by one million per year, supporting the draft NI Executive Programme for Government outcome to encourage more people to use public transport.

But, this objective is being hampered by lack of government investment, Mr Conway said, with Northern Ireland receiving, on average, 50 per cent less financial support than in the rest of the UK - 40 per cent less than in Scotland and 60 per cent less than England.

"More people are choosing public transport as bus and rail passenger numbers have exceeded targets, but we need more investment to maintain and grow our services," Mr Conway added. "Northern Ireland still lags behind investment levels in the UK and we have not received the fuel duty rebate, for instance, since 2013/14, amounting to a £16 million loss in funding.

"So far, we have been able to counter the loss of compensation by dipping into our own reserves, but this is the final year we will be able to that. We need this issue addressed promptly in the autumn."

In the report – normally presented to Stormont in June – highlights include investment in 85 new Euro VI eco-friendly buses for Metro, Ulsterbus and Airport, mobile ticketing (now available on Metro, NI Railways, Goldine and P&R services), and an increase in web sales which are up 18 per cent.

Work is also progressing to deliver Translink's Future Ticketing System in 2018, as well as the capital development programme with regard to the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) Network – scheduled for introduction in 2018 – and on the Belfast and North West Tranport Hubs.

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