No surprises as Translink warns of fare increases and service cuts

Before you keep reading this, check my earlier articles here, here, and especially here.

BBC News is reporting that David Strahan, current Chief Executive of Translink, has given a gloomy outlook to the Committee for Regional Development on fare rises and service cuts.  Missing from the media reports is that their subsidy is being cut by more than £12 million, and they used £12 million in reserves last year to avoid a fare rise – so the real shortfall is at least £24 million, and that has to be met somehow.

Given that subsidy is more or less set in stone for this year (I’ve directed Facebook complainants in the direction of Simon Hamilton and DFP as DRD have insufficient money to fund roads, buses, trains or water properly), it’s all going to fall on the customer somehow:

  • Reducing the salaries of the Executive Directors would save tens of thousands, or a tiny fraction of one percent of the savings required
  • Ticket office hours have already been pared to the bone (how many more cuts would be acceptable to passengers?)
  • Manager numbers are significantly lower than when Translink was created
  • NIR, Ulsterbus and Metro already share all Head Office functions, with obvious economies of scale
  • Calls for additional help from the Treasury will fall on deaf ears – not only will they consider that we have been given enough extra cash this year, GB policy is to increase the share of public transport directly funded by the passenger through the farebox.
  • Privatisation would increase costs (yes, that post is still outstanding – source material is in front of me, but I haven’t been able to go through it for personal reasons)
  • That leaves increasing fares and cutting services.

The conversation I want to start is that in a world where politicians do not want to fund public transport properly (much less increase revenue subsidy to offer free travel to commuters) and it is already unacceptably expensive for two people to get public transport together rather than drive, is to ask: is there a realistic politically and economically acceptable alternative?

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  • Owen Smyth

    Not sure if it’s politically alternative, but deregulation of taxi/bus services would allow competitors like Uber to compete more effectively and offer customers an alternative route where Translink falls short.

  • AndyB

    There are very few routes where Translink would get any competition, believe me. West Belfast is obvious, with the black taxis, plus a few Goldline express routes (eg Coleraine, Newry, Dublin and Derry), and maybe one other metro corridor.

    It’s one of the fallacies of privatisation – a very few people will live on a route with competition, and if they get a ticket for one company they will be stuck with it. Behaviour in GB has tended to be predatory pricing to get passengers all onto one company until the other gives up because either the fares are too low to be sustainable or because they are carrying so few people. Result: monopoly and no competition, and probably the same grumpy drivers.

    The vast majority of people will live on or near routes with one company operating all the buses. Result: no change.

  • PaulT

    What actual regulations do you suggest getting rid off?
    Only asking because I thought regulations where in place for the benefit of the public.

  • deano

    While I agree that the prices will go up significantly if it is privatised I do feel that some routes in Northern Ireland are rather silly. In my town there are 5 bus routes why cant we expand 2 of them to cover the remaining 3 and increase the frequency a little more would definately help.

    Considering people who work are those who benefit the most from the Public Transport network these services should be protected at all costs.

  • chrisjones2

    No they are usualaly for the protection of cartels like the Taxi comapnies

  • AndyB

    Increasing the frequency wouldn’t save a penny, because you’d still need the extra drivers and fuel. Also, extending the routes would be in danger of making the buses take far too long to get into your town and a waste of time for passengers.

    The routes should certainly be protected, but DRD don’t have the money to give Translink to protect them.

  • chrisjones2

    Should ANY routes that make large loses be maintained and if so why?

    These are the SF / DUP bus cuts

  • AndyB

    That’s well established in GB: if a bus company doesn’t see enough money coming in to run a socially necessary service, then the local council (or for us, DRD) tenders it and the company wanting the least subsidy comes in and runs it at an inflated cost to the ratepayer. If it isn’t “socially necessary”, the service is cut.

  • AndyB

    Deregulation means allowing any bus company to operate on any route, and also to stop operating at any time (although DRD could still tender for someone to operate a needed service)

  • Brian O’Neill

    Not sure I completely agree with you Andy. McGinns bus run a popular Belfast to ballycastle service. There is also direct buses from Newry to Belfast with Rooneys. The aircoach to Dublin airport is extremely popular as is the private bus from Derry to Belfast International airport.

    I know there is a danger of private companies cherry picking the best routes but a lot of destinations are very badly served by Translink.

  • deano

    Actually if you cut frequency laterin the day drivers could do several routes and others can work part time hence a saving.

    Problem is there’s more pensioners use the bus for free which is unfair considering when I reach 65 I’ll still be expected to work till I’m 70 and by that time there probably won’t be free bus passes.

    Provide a decent service on key routes and remove the rest.

  • AndyB

    The ones badly served are the ones which won’t generally have competition – I think Ballycastle may be an exception. I was an occasional passenger on Rooney’s excellent, popular and cheap service to Rostrevor 🙂

  • AndyB

    That is subsidised – it’s funded at 80% of the single fare for the number of passengers who would have used it before it became free. It’ll almost certainly be cut as soon as there is someone with the political guts to do it, because the over 60s are more likely to vote than the under 60s.

    As for key services, one thing that has been learned from experience is that if you cut a feeder service, the people left without a direct bus service won’t drive to the nearest bus station – they’ll just drive to their destination unless there is a convenient park and ride on their way.

  • Ian James Parsley

    £24 million is roughly the amount which would be saved if concessionary fares were withdrawn for 60-65s and during peak hours.

    It’s so blindingly obvious…

  • Brian O’Neill

    Are you saying remove free fares during peak hours only? Sounds fair to me.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Question Andy. How do private operators currently run these routes? Do you need to apply for a license for a route or can anyone start running a bus route? What are the restrictions?

  • Brian O’Neill

    As a former non driver I have had a lot of experience with buses. I used to travel a lot around the Glens of Antrim, and 90% of the time I was the only person on the bus. Some routes it really work be cheaper to get people a taxi.

  • notimetoshine

    I think anyone can. Obviously assuming they have the relevant operators licenses etc. It might be different if they want to use ulserbus facilities etc. I know Rooney’s are allowed to use Belfast Europa, there was a an article about them being the first private operator to use those facilities. I would imagine they were forced to, Rooney’s is cheaper and more convinient or it is for me anyway.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Yes, precisely.

    They don’t apply during peak hours anywhere else in the UK.

  • AndyB

    That’s a good question, Brian. All I know is that an operator needs a DRD licence to operate a particular (express or stage carriage) route, but I don’t know whether DRD restrict the routes where licences are available or the permitted frequency.

  • AndyB

    How much of the £24million is attributable to 60-65s? Unfortunately that’s never going to happen, because it’s a DRD scheme, and there is still the “Don’t annoy the pensioners who might go and vote for someone else” rule that governs all political decisions.

    I’d be sceptical about the impact of banning free travel before 9.30, because most over 65s already put off their journeys until after the rush when possible.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I can’t see it being that hard to bring in. Over 60’s who are going to work can just stump up like the rest of us. Pensioners going to Dublin for an outing can just get the 10:30am train and free up seats for commuters on the 8am.

  • PaulT

    examples?

  • PaulT

    surely all the current routes are needed, and how could there be ‘routes’ if it’s deregulated, surely it just becomes A to B trips identical to private bus hire at the moment,

    Ain’t routes planned to provide a service to as many people as possible and hence impractical and uneconomical.

  • PaulT

    “there is a danger of private companies cherry picking the best routes”

    Just a possibility!
    I would say it’s 100% nailed down that they would.

  • PaulT

    Surely the obvious answer is an all-Ireland public transport infrastructure, IIRC Bus Eireann mostly breaks even on costs, buses in Ireland are a lot newer and busier, but then the roads are a lot better as is the economy.

    Surely NI would benefit from closer integration with a rapidly growing economy which a single entity would give.

    For any nervous Unionists, relax every other Bus Eireann driver seems to be English, I think the pay and conditions are a lot better in Ireland compared to the privatised bus (Mac)jobs in GB

  • PaulT

    What would the savings be if the pensions of police and military widows/widowers was brought in line with GB.

    Bearing in mind wee Jeff was on Nolan saying 10% of the NI population were ‘veterans’ so I’d say that is a big old pot of cash that should be claimed back asap,

  • PaulT

    just as long as you ensure all hospital or doctor appointments are after 11am then, shouldn’t impact more than a few million quid for the NHS

  • D99

    Effective strategy: under fund or incompetently manage a public service – transport, health, etc.- so that it fails and you have an excuse to privatise all or part of it.

    A bit like when politicians double job and take thousands to promote private companies when they are supposed to be looking after the interests of their constituents. What’s the suggested solution – pay them more, so they are not tempted to betray the electorate.

  • deano

    You are right completely perhaps DRD will make Belfast parking cheaper so people like me can use their car its literally £50 more for me to use my car than use a bus and that £50 is roughly a parking space.

    The bus technically now is more expensive and Its sickening busses are late, rude drivers, smelly, dirty and overpriced.

  • AndyB

    I can say with a great deal of certainty that there is no hope of that. DRD don’t have enough money to look after the roads as it is, so they won’t make it cheaper to park and do away with an income stream.

  • Practically_Family

    As I’m not a welfare recipient, a mud hut dweller or a child… I couldn’t care less.

  • AndyB

    Bus Eireann and Irish Rail fares are also a lot more expensive.

  • chrisjones2

    and they plan to axe scores of uneconomic routes too

    The bugger is when you provide public transport and nobody uses it. Imagine. The ingrates

  • chrisjones2

    Every taxi regulation scheme in the UK

    Their fear of Uber

  • chrisjones2

    …and so they should if they offer value

  • chrisjones2

    “excellent, popular and cheap service”

    note those words