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?