Details emerging on Translink fare rises

Hat tip to Martin Baumann, who sent me this photograph of a poster today.

NI Railways fare poster

NI Railways poster for fare rise from 16th February

I’m still waiting to hear, as are all of us, what the impact in cash terms will be on Ulsterbus and Metro, beyond a statement in December that Metro cash fares (and by extension the three lowest Ulsterbus fares) would go up by 10p each – it isn’t clear, for example, whether Metro smartlink fares will also rise by 10p.

Where I want to start the conversation is to remind you all that DRD faced a rather large budget cut.  The final budget shows that £8.7 million extra was found for roads and £2.4 million for transport, and £7.5 million for capital spending on roads and £7.1 million for capital spending on transport (including the Strangford ferry, buses, and Phase 2 of the Coleraine-Derry railway  line etc). I haven’t found detailed figures, but that still leaves at least £12.6 million of cuts from Translink’s 2014-15 revenue subsidy levels. (Sorry – I’ve edited this paragraph because I misread the figures!)

Back in December, the Consumer Council was up in arms about the proposed fare rises, but this ignored the reality that in 2014-15 Translink has lived off reserves to avoid putting fares up, and that was for political reasons.  Those reserves are therefore gone.

Hardly anybody wants to see fares go up, and I certainly don’t, but the circumstances in which we find ourselves are extremely hostile to that with Translink having to stay solvent, upwards pressure due to Translink’s fare structure being cheaper than most of the rest of the British Isles, and any attempt by DRD to reassign money from Roads or NIWater to Translink being even more politically unacceptable.

For what it’s worth, the figures in the photograph are as follows:-

  • Minimum adult fare (eg Belfast Central-Botanic) £1.50 to £1.60 (6.67%)
  • Maximum single fare (eg Belfast-Derry) £11.50 to £12 (4.35%)
  • Maximum day return £17.50 to £18.50 (5.7%)
  • Maximum weekly £58 to £64 (10.34%)
  • Maximum monthly £195 to £225 (15.38%)
  • Minimum monthly value for free weekend travel £75 to £80 (10.67%)
  • iLink Zone 4 one day from £15.50 to £16.50 (6.45%)
  • Sunday day tracker from £7 to £9 (28.57%)

The maximum fare figures appear to show season ticket holders taking a big hit, but I would urge serious caution until we know figures for passengers making shorter journeys on the former Suburban network (ie Larne/Bangor/Portadown/Ballymena).  The figures publicly available could just be showing a reduction in the cap on the maximum fares available, and I’ll be trying to find out more accurate information.

Incidentally, before anyone suggests doing away with the 1/3 off day return offer after 9.30am on NIR, I am reliably informed that off-peak travel increased by more than 50% when this was introduced, more than paying for the off-peak reduction.

A post on why privatising Translink wouldn’t do us the customers the remotest bit of good based on the waste suffered in Great Britain is still in preparation.

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  • Ernekid

    Translink is totally crap. Slow, late buses that are super expensive. Rude drivers, incompetent staff and executives that pay themselves a complete fortune. Northern Ireland is the one part of the UK that has an integrated public transport network but Translinks ticketing system is moronic. We’ve A rail network that only serves Antrim and Down properly and doesn’t even go to the airport!

    Time table? Nah mate we just drive about.

    I’m not in favour of privatisation but we need something to shake translink up

  • AndyB

    Those are the three elephants in the room.

    1. Translink may seem expensive, and I think it ought to be a lot cheaper, but compare it to any company making similar journeys in GB, including multi journey and season tickets, and it’s cheap. Maybe Translink could offer cheap webfares to Derry and that’s about it – you would be lucky to find a 70 mile journey in GB for as little as £12 (let alone the 90+ miles the train travels via Coleraine) without committing yourself to a particular train at a particular time and losing your money if you miss it.

    2. Whatever you do to Translink, you’ll have the same drivers. There are only so many professional drivers available in NI.

    3. Buses are late because there are cars in the way – it’s a problem commercial drivers in vans and lorries face just as much. Short of changing the timetable each day, the only way to manage it is to schedule for the least bad day so that the buses are at least not running early, and not sitting idle at the terminus because of padded schedules.

  • AndyB

    I should also say that while the notion of integrated fares is an absolute joke (disclaimer : if it isn’t obvious I don’t work for either DRD or Translink!) I also suspect that there was a funding failure that meant that proper integration never had the cash to get off the ground properly – so PlusBus tickets for the likes of Bangor and other Town services can be bought on the train to finish your journey, but you can’t board a town service bus in the morning and buy a ticket including the train to Belfast. Crazy.

  • chrisjones2

    cheap webfares to Derry and that’s about it

    Why? Webfares from Derry to Belfast perhaps!

  • Dan

    So, do they just ignore the collapse in the price of fuel, and stick the prices up anyway?

  • AndyB

    There is no way that a collapse in the price of fuel (which I can almost guarantee is temporary) is going to counteract £12 million+ in subsidy cuts alone, never mind the cost of potential redundancy payments, and of course the money in reserves used in the last financial year to avoid a fare rise then.

  • AndyB

    Question that arises is how many people would it attract – would it attract enough to pay for itself?

  • AndyB

    Also bear in mind that one of the subsidies that Translink has lost is fuel duty rebate. That’s quite a difference on the price they pay for fuel.

  • cimota

    In the face of this, I believe the economic benefits of making public transport free of charge would vastly outweigh the costs. Even simply in terms of economic and social mobility. We will be paying extra to maintain a service that half of the people are unhappy with, half of the people are forced to use and all of the people don’t know any different.

  • AndyB

    The problem for the next few years is that there is no money to make it so, as the Minister for Finance and Personnel won’t raise any revenue.

  • cimota

    That’s not the problem, Andy. The problem is the lack of will; that’s always been the problem.

    I guarantee Free Public Transport would have a much greater economic benefit than corporation tax cuts. And it would potentially benefit every man, woman and child in the province, not to mention tourists.

    We have always been able to afford what we want to. We have always had the “where will the money come from” debate when it’s something we don’t want. That’s the curse of Northern Ireland.

  • chrisjones2

    Yeah…lets make everything free

  • cimota

    Everything? No.

    But transport as a backbone of economic and social mobility should be opened up. The additional benefits would be probably the removal of 30% of cars from our roads with reductions in fuel expenditures (making people feel richer), pollution (making them healthier) and traffic (making them feel nicer towards others).

    That’s even before we calculate the value of workforce mobilised to go to work without losing 20% of their minimum wage job actually GETTING to work. They’re not going to hide this money in the Cayman Islands; they’ll spend it in the local economy with local businesses as opposed to propping up a government quango that is already 50% funded by the government.

  • chrisjones2

    Thye are already hugely subsidised. Theres no money for that. Feul cost is only a % of the poroblem

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, chris, lets! Lets go for free money too, for a “Citizen Income”, of say, £10,000, no restraint on the right to earn more and certainly no expensive apparatus of means testing, and then see just how much real life grass roots enterprise is generated as people are finally freed from the poverty trap. Much of this money already goes out in means tested benefits anyway, but with strict controls to stop people from ever getting out of the benefits trap.

    The only even slightly “democratic” place in Europe, Switzerland, may have just have rejected the idea first shot, but the buzz I hear is that they will not do so again next refferendum. What is it with the Puritan inability here to thank outside the box?

    As cimota says, for any enterprise society to develop, an infrastructure is essensial. You spend money to generate money.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I am not sure why the concept is a joke; it’s a sensible idea to me. Asking people to pay for a journey instead of a leg of a journey. They manage it with Leap.

    Implementing a stored-value card that works on all buses and trains, the way Leap and Oyster do, should not be a hard thing to accomplish. It does, of course, require commitment from the DRD.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The attraction of the private car – that it is fast, cheap and flexible for most of us – probably outweighs the benefits of even free public transport.

    My work commute takes 45 minutes if I go by train and 10-20 minutes if I go by car. Since time is valuable to me, and I’m lazy, I’d still take the car. In fact, if you tell me that cheap public transport takes cars off the road it will make my car commute even better.

    For this to work you need to substantially invest in the public transport infrastructure; and you need to make travelling by car more like the expensive luxury that it really is. Car drivers in Northern Ireland are mollycoddled and extensively subsidized.

  • AndyB

    The concept is very serious, and I completely agree with you, but the notion of having integrated fares in NI is an absolute joke.

  • cimota

    For some, they cannot give up the car. For me, doing a school run in the morning means visits to two schools before I head towards work but at some point I should be able to abandon the car outside of town. Except that the car is cheaper, more convenient and more reliable than the bus right now.

    But for many, the bus could be the lynchpin that leaves the car at home.

    Translink and DRD have the mission to produce a transport service that is measured on costs. They need to produce a bus and rail service that is measured on passengers. Make the real problem overcrowding rather than cost reduction. Open the timetable and route data and provide real time acquisition of bus locations.

    At the moment we are doing everything wrong

  • LordSummerisle

    “Totally crap”, a somewhat extreme review of the service. I would say that Translink is satisfactory. As I now live in a rural (ish) area I can compare and contrast the service in both Belfast and where I now reside.

    “Rude drivers, incompetent staff”, well I do not agree with that generalisation. I have found the staff (particularly on the Derry-Belfast rail service) to be helpful and courteous. Some of the bus drivers can be grumpy (I think we are all entitled to an off day don’t you ?) but frankly if they get me to my destination safely I do not care if they are singing like Al Johnston or frowning like Jack Dee.

    If you ever have the opportunity travel on Scotrail or First in Scotland. Ticket fares on Scotrail are extortionate (particularly if you turn up out of the blue for a ticket rather than book online). First buses do not give out change you put your money in the box and it has to be exact. Barely a word passes between you and the driver.

    So whilst in your opinion “Translink is totally crap” sometimes it is a case of better the devil you know.

  • Practically_Family

    I would want paid a lot more than £1.60 to get on a bus.

  • AndyB

    Yes, but you’re relying on everyone else to take the bus so there’s roadspace for you to go about your business.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Translink already have a 212 commuter service card, around £60 for 10 single journeys. That’s £12 return effectively. Surely the best way for Translink is to work with PayPoint who provide this service and their iLink service for more convenient means of payment online. Saying that there is something pleasantly surreal about going into off-licences to buy bus journeys simply as they have the PayPoint service.

  • AndyB

    Now you know – it’s cheaper to get the train at £58 per week!

    I agree completely, but I would suspect we’re up against the usual. Insufficient funding available to do sensible things like online topups.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Yes, cheaper if you commute weekly, however, the £60 will cover you for 10 journeys anytime the year.

  • AndyB

    That’s true, and it’s not that well known – the number of people who pay £1.90 a time to travel around Belfast when they must surely be making more than five journeys a year…

    Speaking of which, must top up my MJ card with 40 jouneys before the weekend to make sure I get to travel at the old rate for a while!

  • AndyB

    We have confirmation of the fare rises at http://www.translink.co.uk/Translink-Footer/translink-fares-revision/ – 10p on the Metro cash and smartlink fares, ditto the three lowest Ulsterbus fares.

    As I write, there is an obvious typo as it says Foyle City fares will be cut to £1.16 – correct figure is £1.60.

  • Practically_Family

    No, no I’m not.

  • AndyB

    Actually, yes you are, because we all are. If you’re driving into Belfast or busy towns, you need roadspace to make any reasonable progress on your own journeys. Congestion slows you down and costs you time and money, and if other people stop using public transport and drive instead, that increases congestion.
    If you live out in the country and avoid town and city centres, you’re relying on couriers and lorry drivers being able to make their deliveries in decent time. The more congestion, the more time that is lost, and the greater the cost (which again gets passed on to us, the consumer) – so it doesn’t matter where you live or where you go, you will always rely on people not creating congestion by driving when there is a practical alternative.