Public transport is facing collapse unless more money is pumped into the system urgently, senior civil servants have warned.
Such a scenario would be catastrophic for commuters after they took an average of 10,000 Translink journeys every hour last year.
The transport firm, which is part-funded by the Government, has struggled for years with unprofitable routes and is now facing a funding shortfall of £29million.
A Stormont committee was warned yesterday the continued viability of the network is in jeopardy.
Translink has been drawing on its financial reserves to maintain rail and bus services and Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs asked if there were options for further cuts.
But John McGrath, from the Department for Infrastructure, said: “It won’t be things at the margins, you’re talking about hacking at the bone.
“Because of the scale of this, there isn’t a, ‘Tighten your belt and it’ll be alright’.
“The scale of it means, in our view, the continued viability of the public transport network is in jeopardy.”
Mr Beggs revealed that in order to prevent insolvency, Translink bosses would have to turn to very significant reductions in bus and rail services.
He added officials had confirmed NI Transport Holding Company directors, responsible for Translink, said few services were viable on their own.
Last year, Translink provided 84.5 million journeys – the highest number in 20 years.
It typically carries around 1.5 million passengers a week and runs 12,500 services every day, operating a fleet of 1,400 buses, coaches and trains.
A spokesman for the Infrastructure Department told its scrutiny committee: “The recurrent shortfall is £29million going into 2020/21.
“Should this not be remedied, the company will be unable to deliver the public transport network and its ability to trade at all will be in doubt.
“Action in this Budget is essential if we are to avoid an imminent and serious collapse of our public transport.”
Mr Beggs said public transport enabled the community to get to work and to school.
He added: “It is also important in avoiding social isolation and in fighting climate change.
“The Northern Ireland Executive must ensure essential public transport services continue to be provided.”
Translink has previously warned people living in rural communities could be left without bus services because they are not profitable.
The company is funded through fares and Government money but the subsidy has fallen by around 20% since 2013/14.
At one stage it was losing about £13million every year running rural buses but the company has invested in services like the Glider, which connects different parts of Belfast.
Alliance infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir said: “The minister needs to act immediately and give assurances where possible to Translink employees and management, and the general public, about the future of the public transport system in Northern Ireland.”
A Translink spokesperson said: “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.
“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.”
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