Public transport heralded as 'vital cog' in Northern Ireland economy

Pictured at an event where the value of public transport and an economic impact assessment were discussed are (from left) John Kelpie, chief executive Derry City & Strabane District Council; Katrina Godfrey, permanent secretary Department for Infrastructure; Suzanne Wylie, chief executive Belfast City Council; Chris Conway, chief executive Translink; Andrew Webb, chief economist Grant Thornton and Stephen Edwards, UK Urban Transport Group
Gary McDonald Business Editor

EVERY pound invested in public transport in Northern Ireland generates a further £4 for the wider economy, a new report claims.

But the north still lags woefully behind other UK regions when it comes to public transport expenditure levels, with per capita spend just 60 per cent of that in England and 40 per cent of the Scotland equivalent - even though network coverage locally is much higher.

The figures were revealed in an economic impact report carried out by Grant Thornton on behalf of Translink and published to coincide with the fourth annual Bus + Train Week initiative, which incentivises people to use public transport.

Grant Thornton chief economist Andrew Webb's study showed that directly and indirectly Translink accounts for more than 6,000 jobs which in turn have an economic impact of £185 million every year.

It also pointed to many other catalytic economic impacts including tackling congestion, attracting inward investment, supporting social inclusion and enabling health, education, tourism and environmental benefits.

A survey carried out as part of the economic study found that public transport supports the local economy and a number of key business sectors. Some 53 per cent of respondents identified public transport as being important to accessing employment opportunities.

The retail sector is a key beneficiary of public transport provision showing an average spend of £46 per journey via public transport. Meanwhile its role in supporting the local hospitality sector was clear with 36 per cent of respondents reporting that their primary use of public transport was for leisure/socialising or hospitality – accounting for an average spend of £50 per trip.

Mr Webb said: “It's clear public transport is a vital cog in the local economy, delivering strong direct and indirect benefits. It also offers a wide range of catalytic impacts and clearly acts as a key enabler that supports the draft Programme for Government on a number of levels.

"While we can quantify the direct impacts of the investment in public transport via Translink and demonstrate the clear value to the local economy directly and indirectly, the wider economic and societal benefits are almost inestimable.

"Our research shows that it plays a vital role in supporting workforce movement, tackling the financial and environmental costs of congestion, attracting inward investment and delivering sustainable movement of people and goods.

“We can also see the value it delivers to the environment and to the health of the nation, given its contribution to more active lifestyles and stress reduction. Its critical role in promoting social inclusion and connecting people with family and friends, employment and educational opportunities as well as health benefits also featured strongly in our research.”

Translink chief executive Chris Conway said: “This report provides concrete evidence of the vital role public transport plays in supporting the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Northern Ireland.

“Public transport represents an efficient use of resources and makes our towns and cities more competitive and more attractive places to live, invest in and visits.”

The stakeholder event in Belfast also heard from Stephen Edwards, chairman of the UK Urban Transport Group, who discussed the cross-sector benefits of backing public transport across the UK.

He also joined a panel discussion involving Katrina Godfrey, permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure, and the chief executives of the north's two biggest councils, Suzanne Wylie (Belfast) and John Kelpie (Derry/Strabane).

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