Public transport in Northern Ireland is at risk of “imminent and serious collapse”, according to a Department for Infrastructure budget briefing.
The Department has warned that action in this budget is essential otherwise bus and rail services will be unable to continue in their current form.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs is calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to take action and ensure funds are secured in order to prevent such a collapse.
“Due to the low level of subsidy for transport over the past number of years, Translink have indicated that they have drained their reserves and cannot continue to provide the current bus and rail services with the current level of public subsidy,” he said.
“Public transport enables the community to get to work and to school. It is also important in avoiding social isolation and in fighting climate change.
“The Northern Ireland Executive must ensure that essential public transport services continue to be provided.”
The deficit Translink faces going into 2021 if increased funding is not secured
During a meeting of the Committee for Infrastructure, Mr Beggs pressed officials to advise what was happen without increased funding for public transport.
Senior civil servant John McGrath responded by telling the committee cuts would be needed.
It was suggested that the only profitable services worth running would be parts of the Metro and Goldline network, but that “you’d just close down the railway”.
Mr Beggs said: “They confirmed that without increased funding, NI Transport Holding Company Directors, who are responsible for Translink, would have to prevent insolvency by very significant reductions in bus and rail services, with few services being viable on their own.
“My former colleague Danny Kennedy repeatedly warned of the dire situation facing Translink when he was the DRD Minister, but those calls fell on deaf ears at previous Executives and Translink now finds itself in a very precarious position.”
Translink will continue to work with DfI to ensure sustained levels of public service obligation and concessionary fares funding going forward to maintain high quality public transport.
A Translink spokesperson said the company’s passenger growth is the highest it has been in 20 years, with 84.5 million journeys made last year.
In a statement the spokesperson said: “Translink operates under a Public Service Agreement with the Department for Infrastructure, in which the parties agree that funding will be made available to Translink for the provision of socially necessary public transport services across Northern Ireland.
It continued: “This agreement states that the funding will be maintained at such a level as to ensure that these services can be carried out by Translink and will enable it to meet going concern requirements.
“Sustainable public transport is central to the daily lives of many people in Northern Ireland and is essential to the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the region, supporting the Programme for Government vision and the goal of Zero Carbon transport”.
I have said that I am in solution mode, and I believe that the Finance
Minister and Executive colleagues recognise the importance of a thriving public transport network in terms of connecting communities, growing our economy and also in tackling the climate emergency.
I am hoping that if we work together, we can put the investment that is required in place.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon met Northern Ireland Office Minister Robin Walker on Wednesday afternoon to press the case for more Treasury backing for the new powersharing administration at Stormont.
“I don’t think it is any secret that there are pressures, quite critical pressures, across my Government department,” she said.
“We only have to look at the broken streetlight situation – there is not enough money to be switching street lights on – there is not enough to fix potholes and resurface our roads.
“We have pressures on our public transport network, in our waste water infrastructure.
“In a number of areas, we are at maximum capacity or almost maximum capacity, which is having a knock-on effect in terms of planning applications for housing.”
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