Translink is currently facing a funding shortfall of £8m and a budget crisis, it has emerged.
The Department for Infrastructure’s Director of Public Transport Tom Reid said the situation had reached a “critical” level which could mean large-scale service cuts if extra funding is not secured.
He told Stormont’s Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday that the shortfall was due to a fuel duty rebate no longer being reimbursed and the rise in concessionary fares.
Mr Reid also noted challenges created by a reduction in Stormont’s departmental budgets from 2015.
Translink operates Ulsterbus, Goldliner, Northern Ireland Railways and Belfast Metro and is funded by the DfI.
Committee chair, DUP MLA Michelle McIllveen, said that Translink hadn’t received the funding it needed and expressed hope it could be addressed in the upcoming Assembly budget announcement.
Mr Reid said since 2015, £13-15m had been cut from Translink’s budget through the removal of the fuel duty reimbursement.
“So that’s been a year-on-year underfunding,” he said.
“In addition to that we’ve also had the issue of growing pressure on concessionary fares.
“It’s clearly been a very,very successful policy, but the bill for concessionary fares has increased year on year.
“I think we’re now at a stage where it’s effectively underfunded Translink to a tune of £8m, potentially rising to £10m by the end of this year.”
He said Translink had been “effectively drawing on their reserves” since 2015 and this had enabled the protection of the public transport network in Northern Ireland.
“We’re now at a stage where that is not really an option going forward unless additional funding is secured to deal with that,” Mr Reid said.
“I think this is one of the key issues the minister is exploring with her Executive colleagues, how we respond to that.”
Alliance MLA Andrew Muir cautioned that reducing concessionary fares could in itself reduce funding to Translink and exacerbate issues around their financial position.
Ulster Unionist committee member Roy Beggs said that the situation was “critical” and that Translink could not sustain the current situation.
He asked what the impact would be on services if Translink were forced to make cuts.
How do they determine how they will bring about savings, they will not be able to operate at the same level under the current funding,” Mr Beggs said.
Mr Reid said it would require savings of approximately £20m and that it “can’t be piecemeal cuts here and there in services”.
“It is at a critical stage,” he told the committee.
Mr Reid said it was a matter that would require discussions with Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon in terms of what the options are going forward and how the funding shortfall would be addressed.
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