Translink chief says £3bn needed for public transport over the next ten years

Translink recorded 9.7 million passenger journeys on the new Glider service last year. Picture by Hugh Russell
Translink recorded 9.7 million passenger journeys on the new Glider service last year. Picture by Hugh Russell Translink recorded 9.7 million passenger journeys on the new Glider service last year. Picture by Hugh Russell

TRANSLINK recorded its highest number of passengers in two decades last year, but its chief executive has warned the bus and rail operator will need £3bn in the next decade to maintain its fleet and infrastructure and meet green energy targets.

Chris Conway made the comments as the public transport body announced it hit 84.5 million passenger journeys during 2018/19. Some 9.7 million were on the new Belfast Glider service, which came into operation last year.

NI Railways recorded its highest number of passenger journeys since it was set up 50 years ago, while Tranlink’s Metro and Ulsterbus services all saw rising passenger number.

The rising number of paying passengers helped Translink record an 8.2 per cent rise in revenues to £238.5 million for the 12 months to March 31 2019.

The figures have been published along with new research from Grant Thornton, which revealed that funding for public transport in Northern Ireland is well below the rest of the UK.

It found that the north received £84 per head for public bus and rail transport during 2017/18, 27 per cent below the UK average. Since 2013, Translink’s funding per capita has fallen back from £97.

Translink boss Chris Conway said new services like the Glider were encouraging more people onto public transport, but added that awareness of the environment and climate change is becoming an increasingly significant factor.

“People are starting to recognise that this carbon zero target is real and they see public transport as one of the solutions to that. The big challenge for us is that requires funding for public transport going forward.

“Over the last decade, public transport hasn’t had the same funding that you would tend to see in the rest of the UK and Republic of Ireland” he said.

“We’re doing the best we can with the funding we get, but we really see that there needs to be a big change in funding for public transport if we really want to see a shift to public transport and if we really want to be serious about climate change.

“We estimate that over the next ten years, we would need to see £3bn invested in public transport to really address the climate change agenda and to get to carbon zero.”

Mr Conway stressed that the £3bn includes investment in the existing rail infrastructure, along with the electrification of rail and the transition to greener energy buses.

Subject to funding, Translink said its plan is to invest in hybrid electric and hydrogen technologies, reducing vehicle emissions to less than 10 per cent of its current fleet.

The chief executive said while the power vacuum at Stormont had not prevented the operator moving ahead with a number of capital projects, he said ministers will be needed if the operator is to realize future energy targets.

"The UK Government have put out their agenda to go carbon zero by 2050. In England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, they are putting out big agenda and investment plans to prepare for that. There’s €10bn going into the public transport network in the Republic of Ireland.

“We’re not seeing that shift, because we really need ministerial direction from Stormont," said Mr Conway.

Translink’s latest accounts show a pro forma pre-tax profit of £1.1m for 2018/19, almost half its 2017/18 figure. But when pension and other financial adjustments are taken into account, the transport operator posted a consolidated pre-tax loss of £19.5m, some £6.2m higher than last year.