Translink: “a great set of results”

That was Translink’s Ciaran Rogan’s response to the customer satisfaction survey which rated high overall satisfaction levels amongst Translink passengers.  I don’t think they asked those who ‘walked the plank’ on the Dublin to Belfast train today…

But the survey also revealed 2.5 million fewer journeys taken by the public compared to last year – down from 80.7 million in 2008/09 to 78.2 million in 2009/10.  From the BBC report

Ryan Simpson, Senior Consumer Affairs Officer at the Consumer Council, welcomed the high overall satisfaction levels amongst Translink passengers, but said he was “concerned” by the drop in passenger numbers and warned that the company must do more to reverse the decline.

“The challenge still remains for Translink to present the public transport system as a viable alternative to the car by offering a range of cost-effective ticket options, which the public perceive to be value-for-money, and which will increase passenger numbers,” he said.

Mr Simpson said a wider adoption of cash-less ticket options such as Smartlink and iLinkcards could improve value-for-money for customers.

“Earlier this year the Consumer Council called on Translink to develop a plan to increase the uptake of cash-less ticket options and whilst Translink have introduced a number of promotions, these have only resulted in a modest increase in uptake,” he said.

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  • Jack Cade

    Very suspicious. Here’s a few gripes I have with translink.

    1) 16 dabs to get a return to get the bus to Dungiven from Belfast! It’s cheaper to get to Prague.

    2) If you ask the translink website to go from Belfast to Dungiven it suggests a route that goes to Derry, then Coleraine first before going to Dungiven.

    3) It costs £3.90 to stand on the old train from Carrick to Belfast.

    4) The Carrick line gets the old trains while the Bangor line gets the new ones. When asked about this the ticket guy says “it’s because their rich”.

    5) If I want a bus to Holywood from Belfast I can choose from one every 40 minutes before 9am, but after 9 they are every 10.

    6) The bus timetable is a collection of lies. Yesterday I was a t a stop going down the lisburn road. Four buses were meant to have come before one did.

    7) You can’t get a bus in Belfast that goes anywhere except for into and out of the city centre.

    That was really cathartic. I feel better now.

  • Jack Cade

    Oh yeah- and 8) half the bus stops on the Lisburn road suggest that the bus arrives there at exactly the same time as each other!

  • Neil

    The challenge still remains for Translink to present the public transport system as a viable alternative to the car

    But it’s not. If I catch a bus to work I have a 20 – 25 minute walk to get from the bus stop to my work place. So I can expect to add the guts of an hour onto my day overall if I catch a bus.

    I know this is insane but perhaps some kind of joined up transport and ticketing system that would allow someone to pick where in Belfast city center their journey ended would be better? Instead of the usual approach which is to do what is convenient for Translink and let the customers arrange themselves around that, which ends up with Translink picking the busiest street in Belfast and setting up an unofficial bus depot on it.

    I’d also point out that from my home on a Sunday there’s one bus every two hours. To try to sell that as a good service is downright cheeky. I’d walk a half a mile to get a black taxi in order to deprive Translink of my money, and I’m not alone. Thankfully the car’s running alright so it’s not an issue at the minute, and I won’t have to pay in excess of 3 quid a day, which is I think about the same price as an inner zone tube ticket in London, which is staggering considering the difference in wages.

  • GoldenFleece

    It is cheaper for me to drive my car into belfast than take the train. Therefore I take the car, simples.

  • King Zorin

    I think Translink are missing a trick by not running train and bus services after midnights on the weekends. While I can appreciate there are the issues of staffing costs and also safety concerns, the profit from weekend revellers would be a boost.

    The amount that come from Bangor, Carrick and the rest for a night is sizable. Also it would help ease the workload for Taxis, which is already stretched on Fridays and Saturdays as is. Although I admit the taxi drivers themselves may not see it the same way.

  • bigchiefally

    Cheaper once the depreciation, parking, petrol, insurance, tax and maintenance of the care are taken into consideration?

    I know many people will own a car and have at least a proportion of many of these costs regardless of if they use the car for work or not, but lots of people simply equate car versus train/bus costs to a petrol versus train ticket cost, which is illusionary.

  • bigchiefally

    Having ridden many nightliner buses in my time I can see why the company would not be keen to deal with the typical 1am clientèle.

  • Jack Cade
  • GoldenFleece

    Fair enough, was only accounting for petrol and my parking is free.

    So are you saying translink is only worthwhile if you don’t have a car?

    Many people have cars, most would like not to drive into Belfast, but seeing as they bought and paid for a car, they might as well drive in if petrol costs them less than a ticket.

  • GoldenFleece

    Tough, all major cities have night buses.

  • King Zorin

    I would concur somewhat, only to say that in my experience it was the 2am crowd on the Bangor bus which always seemed a problem, the “bang as many pints in before last orders” crowd. The bus at 1am was relativley prosaic compared to it.

    As I said in my original post I would prefer to see both buses and trains on, that would help split the crowd, the trouble with the 2am bus was that it was packed to capacity. If not buses and trains then maybe a bus every half an hour from 1 till 3 rather than a bus and 1 then another at 2.

    PS: While I will say the rampant sectarianism on display at 2am was often very intimdating, I must confess to never seeing any overt acts of violence.

  • Joe Hassit

    That survey is a classic example of the old adage about lies, damned lies and statistics. As well as the huge deficiencies in bus and train services, they’re also very weak in responding to customer queries. About 6 weeks ago I complained using the email address listed on their website and asked for some information. I’m still waiting on an acknowledgement, never mind a respond. Translink are a shambles. I get the impression it’s a company run by old men, who still think it’s the 70s and that customer needs/satisfaction can go to hell.

  • King Zorin

    A customer service course for their staff dealing with the public wouldn’t go amiss. I was in England last year for a holiday and the courtesy and pleasant banter from the drivers in Nottingham was in marked contrast with some of the bus drivers and station staff I have had run-in’s with in Belfast.

  • William Markfelt

    Customer satisfaction.

    Well, correspondents have not unreasonably focussed on the ticket prices and frequency of service and lack of same. Fair enough.

    But customers are also taxpayers. I guess Translink didn’t want to dwell too much away from operational satisfaction, but it’s worth pointing out that, away from current operational ‘great results’, Translink could be getting twitchy in respect of other areas.

    Those following the NI Water story on these very pages may know, for example, that

    1. The ‘procurement issues’ swamping NI Water just might have been replicated at Translink (both being overseen by DRD), without the same scrutiny applied. If it should emerge there are similar procurement practices, as surely as one bus follows another within 20 seconds, there may well be accusations of mismanagement at Translink, and of ‘waste’.

    2. Translink plan to make a fair percentage of their engineering staff redundant (about half from the Falls Road depot, for example). When the maintenance backlog builds, it might be interesting to see how satisfied passengers are with the service offered.

    3. And that’s not even considering the nasty rumour that NIR’s newer trains were, ah, delivered with a GB rather than Irish axle gauge a few years back, requiring retrofit at great cost. If true, how much more efficient might the services be if the huge cost of that had been spent on the front line?

  • bigchiefally

    Goldenfleece – In a scenario where it is translink or a car, then there is no doubt, even if you drive a complete banger 99% of the time translink will still be cheaper. In the more common scenario where you already own a car and so already have the insurance, depreciation and tax costs to pay then it will be far less in translinks favour.

    The point I was trying to make was that so often people compare journeys by going petrol costs versus fare costs, and this isnt sensible.

  • Pigeon Toes

    There are huge swathes of Northern Ireland where no bus or train service exists.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Mr Dallat:
    Mr Priestly, as a long-serving member of the Public Accounts Committee, I know that this is not
    the first time that your Department has had to explain away financial disasters, embarrassments,
    and things that should not have happened. You will remember the Belfast-Bangor railway and
    the £13 million that went missing, and accounts put in skips and all that. How can you come
    back and explain yet another complete cock-up in how you manage your off-shoot organisations?”

  • PJ Maybe

    The trains present a major opportunity, if there was to use the cliche some more joined up thinking. Take for example getting the train from Jordanstown to Belfast Gt. Victoria Street. It takes 40 minutes outside the peak times. Or, put another way, 15 minutes longer to get the bus from beside the railway station to city hall. Given that it takes about 15 minutes to get to Central you really do have to ask the question. Why? It is madness. This isn’t pie in the sky re-laying track on the Bleach Green line, or opening the Lisburn spur to Antrim this is about running a train service which takes advantage of the trains advantages, not treating them like some sort of mind 1970s bus. Or (if Wiki is to believed) why it takes over two hours to get to ‘derry and the same to Dublin on a supposed inter-city service? If it took an hour (yeah I know) then think of how things would be transformed – you could conceivably commute. I mean in GB people commute an hour, christ people sit in their cars for an hour (it seems on the North Foreshore) to travel the few miles to Carrick and Glengormley So why not. First thing I’d do is run more trains alone the Larne line, and have more trains stop at Whiteabbey (ie the ones heading along the Bleach Green line) and run more express services to Bangor and Portadown.
    But, I suppose, there’s as much chance of any of that happening as there is of me flying to the moon under my own power.

  • wild turkey

    ah yes, the old post midnite shaftesbury sq to bangor bus run. did it once and had a profound sense of deja vu. then realised i had seen this all before in the bar scene in the original star wars fillum. that said, the on the bus public act of ,uh, procreation, was a unique, if aesthetically dubious, diversion.

    King Z, translink could always market the renewed service with the strapline “Ride with Us”

  • chewnicked

    Maybe they could run even one bus from Downpatrick to its outlining villages after half six in the evening?
    Translink’s ‘service’ knocks off before CBeebies of an evening. Laughable more than pitiful.

  • Eamonn

    Why can we not have 3 day or 5 day returns on rail tickets? I’m not sure what it is for the buses as I don’t travel on those regularly enough but you can only get a day return for northern services! It’s a joke.

  • Reader

    Jack Cade: 4) The Carrick line gets the old trains while the Bangor line gets the new ones. When asked about this the ticket guy says “it’s because their rich”.
    It’s because the Bangor line is (was?) the only part of the network that makes a profit. Also – Bangor-Belfast Central monthly £109, Carrick – Belfast Central monthly £80.
    Actually, times being a bit hard and all, swap trains and fares?

  • Reader

    PJ Maybe: and run more express services to Bangor and Portadown.
    I would be happy if they would run the existing 16:41 express from Belfast to Bangor more than 50% of the time.

  • PJ Maybe

    Yeah my thoughts were kind of predicated on the assumption that existing services would run better than they currently do. I know that there are going to be times when the trains or the buses can’t run, but I do get a sense (especially from the train service) that sometimes when you arrive at your destination and the people collecting the tickets give you “that” look – the one which says either “ahh you made it in one piece” or the “we didn’t expect to see you for at least another couple of hours”

  • Comrade Stalin

    And that’s not even considering the nasty rumour that NIR’s newer trains were, ah, delivered with a GB rather than Irish axle gauge a few years back, requiring retrofit at great cost

    Nope, that’s not true.

    And if it was, the cost would have been met by the manufacturer.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Take for example getting the train from Jordanstown to Belfast Gt. Victoria Street. It takes 40 minutes outside the peak times.

    I just tried this out in the journey planner for this evening. All the trains I saw took 30 minutes.

    Given that it takes about 15 minutes to get to Central you really do have to ask the question.

    JP shows this as 8 minutes. Assuming it’s not delayed, which in my experience is not that usual, and when it is, not for more than a couple of minutes.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s not that illusionary, there is a “may as well” factor. Most people like to have their car for reasons unconnected with commuting – being able to get quickly from A to B, ferrying the kids around, doing shopping, etc etc. If you already own it and you already pay the cost, the cost of a train ticket is a marginal cost in the same way that the cost of petrol is. Depending on where you’re travelling to and from, it’s often cheaper than public transit.

    The worst part is that it’s definitely cheaper if you’re going to Dublin. The return ticket to Dublin, on a train which is not especially reliable, is £44. That’s enough in petrol to get me to Dublin and back, and I’ll do the journey door to door in less than the time it takes the train to travel between the two stations.

    The only way to change this is to start subsidizing transport costs (Translink is run on a break-even basis at the moment) and – especially given that the Assembly are looking for ways to raise revenue – start placing toll booths over the hotspots.

  • Dr Concitor

    CS can you shed any light on why the contract for the upgrade to the Bangor line ended up so much over budget?

  • Cynic

    Why dont we just close the pubs at 1030 before the last bus goes?

  • Cynic

    That’s partly true in that years ago they bought up second hand UK stock and modified it for use in NI

    The old Carrick line trains for example were I believe once 1960s BR carriages. The ‘motor cars’ were in fact old passenger carriages with dirty great diesel stuck in the back. Thats why they were so bloody noisy

  • Pigeon Toes

    And er why documents were removed and destroyed.

    Bit of a pattern emerging there.

  • Reader

    I’ve actually only had pleasant and helpful encounters with platform and on-board staff, and that over a good many years. I have noticed a tendency for the station staff to hide away when the delays and cancellations are announced, but I expect that might be because some passengers would like to have a go at them.

  • Gareth

    I get the impression they have never seen how an integrated transport and ticketing system actually works. This is one case where I think management should be taken on a grand tour fieldtrip to the continent. The iLink zones are weird. So I can have 1+2+3, 1+2 but not 3 alone or 2+3. Huh?

  • Comrade Stalin

    CS can you shed any light on why the contract for the upgrade to the Bangor line ended up so much over budget?

    Incompetence and bad project/budget management by Translink. Why the work wasn’t fixed price I’ll never know.

    Cynic, the specific allegation that William appeared to be making – I’ve never heard it before – is that the new trains, manufactured custom for Translink – didn’t have the correct gauge supplied. That’s different from getting BREL to modify second hand trains from elsewhere in the UK.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘ the specific allegation that William appeared to be making – I’ve never heard it before – is that the new trains, manufactured custom for Translink – didn’t have the correct gauge supplied.’

    That’s the rumour, Comrade, due to Translink specification incompetence. And I think the Doc is inferring, perhaps, that the cost of the retrofits was hidden in the Bangor line upgrade. Given DRD’s overseeing of its charges, it wouldn’t be altogether shocking to discover the rumour is true..

  • Dr Concitor

    CS, I raised this’ hare’ on another post. I have since talked to other railway enthusiasts and they would think it unlikely as well. What was the reason for the massive overspend? were the people responsible disciplined? why were the contract documents in such a contentious case destroyed. Surely the Translink equivalent of NIW NEDs need to go, and go now!

  • bigchiefally

    Cynic – its this sort of out of the box thinking that the country has been missing. I like it.

  • PJ Maybe

    From Jordanstown it’s about 15 minutes to Central. You must be getting that special train laid on exclusively for Politburo members I see steaming past most mornings, red flags fluttering at the front.

  • JP and CS, I’ve had a quick browse on the JP. The journey to GVS takes mainly between 30 and 36 mins and to Central 15 and 17 mins. The variation appears not to be related to time of day.

  • Comrade Stalin

    William, I don’t have a very high opinion of Translink as rail operators but in the absence of evidence I find it very hard to believe that they could get a fundamental thing like that wrong. My recollection is that the trains were all delivered on schedule and within budget.

    Furthermore, what exactly makes you think the DRD would work to essentially commit an act of fraud something that would immediately be exposed by an FoI request or committee enquiry ? It would be a simple matter to call a CAF representative as a witness, and they’d simply have to show the paperwork covering the extra dodgy payments. Why wouldn’t they simply blame the engineering team at Translink who would have signed off on the spec ? This accusation doesn’t add up, and to be honest you should probably be careful about repeating it.

  • Dr Concitor

    Possible explanation for the rumour:
    In 2005, NIR investigated the possibility of obtaining seven Class 222 DEMUs built for the British network. In the event, these entered service with their intended operator Midland Mainline. The trains would have required significant modification to enable NIR to use them, not least of which would have been their conversion from standard gauge to Irish gauge.

    I have also read the NIAO report on upgrade contract. The bottom line is that appalling contract management by translink and negligent oversight of the contract by DRD cost the taxpayer up to £12 million That is twelve million pounds lost. The PAC recommended improved procedures at Translink and DRD, but has far as I can see nobody lost their job, in stark contrast with the NIW affair where the oversight was the responsibility of the NIW NEDs? who mostly were sacked for what would appear to be a much much lower sum.
    Interestingly the PAC chairman described the NIW STAs as the worst case of public sector procurement malpractice his committee had dealt with. Like many people connected with the NIW ‘fiasco’ he seems to have developed a poor memory. Must be something in the water?

  • zach920

    Translink hold a monopoly on buses in n.ireland they take people into the city centre at night then abandon them there, every other operator in the uk operates buses later.
    they are leaving people vulnerable indeed their own adverts for the late night service depicted this and had the slogan get home safe
    but by holding a monopoly other bus operaotors cannot operate their buses
    could only happen in ireland;)

  • lucy wallace

    A small bus firm is starting too run buses on friday and saturday nights between lisburn and belfast and only charging £3

  • Geezer

    Here is a contact in Translink to bypass customer service, its the bloke who manages the buses, Frank Clegg,, you actually get a reply though I doubt it will be very positive! Good Luck.

  • Mickles

    If Translink was a person I’d punch it in the face.

    I hate it, I hate all it’s employees – I hate the busdrivers who close the door in people’s face, I hate their attitude, I hate their prices, I hate that they inexplicably stopped selling return tickets to Armagh, and that the Armagh “EXPRESS” bus makes no less than 7 stops and take about 2 hours to do what would be a 35 minute drive. I was getting a bus last week, and as it pulled up to the stop, I joined the queue to board, he started driving off when I had one foot on the pavement and one on the bus – very dangerous, and when I asked about it I got dirty looks.

    Just last night I watched a woman knocking the door he just closed in her face before he drove off – and it wasn’t like he instantly drove off – he had seen her coming, closed the door, heard and seen her knocking for a good 20-30 seconds before he moved at all.

    The second I get a car I will never use Translink again ever.