We need to remove the Translink monopoly on bus routes to deal with congestion and get people out of their cars…

If you commute into Belfast by car, you will know it is a pretty hellish experience. Congestion is getting worse. At peak times the Westlink is like a car park. Trains are already at capacity, so the best option is to increase bus usage.

The Guardian has this to say about the benefits of bus services in England:

The M25 has 790 miles of lanes. If these are used by cars carrying the average load of 1.6 occupants, at 60mph the road’s total capacity is just – wait for it – 19,000 people. Coaches travelling at the same speed, each carrying 30 passengers, raise the M25’s capacity to 260,000. Every coach swallows up a mile of car traffic. They also reduce carbon emissions per passenger mile by an average of 88%. So one of the key tasks for anyone who wants to unblock the roads while reducing the real social costs of carbon must be to make coach travel attractive.

Now obviously that refers to England, but the principle would be the same for Northern Ireland. Ironically the biggest obstacle to getting more people using buses seems to be Translink, our local monopoly transport provider and DRD, the government department that controls transport. Time and again I hear stories of Translink and DRD blocking private operators from running much needed new bus routes.

I recently spoke to Eamonn Rooney who runs the popular Newry to Belfast private bus service. If you commute from Newry to Belfast, the Ulsterbus 7:30 am service takes 1 hour and 25mins. The 7:30 am Rooney service does it in 1 hour. For a daily commuter that adds up to a time saving of around 4 hours a week. Currently, Eamonn Rooney is carrying 500-600 passengers a day. That is 500-600 people leaving their cars at home. Rooney can only operate this route as Ulsterbus do not have an Express service from Newry to Belfast.

Eamonn has been battling Translink for over a decade now, and he has some interesting tales to tell. It all gets very technical but essentially to be considered an Express service you need to drive at least 30miles between stops. If you drive less than this, you are considered a stage carriage service. As a stage carriage service, Translink was eligible for a Fuel rebate of an estimated 55p per litre. This added up to a £10 million a year subsidy to Translink. The rebate program has since stopped. As an Express Service Rooney was not eligible for the fuel rebate. So you had this perverse incentive for Ulsterbus not to run Express routes.

Time and again we see where private routes get established commuters flock to the service. The Air Coach has transformed travel between Belfast and Dublin Airport. All other Northern Ireland private companies are chomping at the bit to launch new routes and take commuters out of their cars, but they are being blocked by the existing monopoly supplier. Hannon Coach wanted to run a faster service with fewer stops from Derry/Londonderry to Belfast, but they have also been blocked.

Some tactics that stifle competition:

  • You cannot run a private route within 30mins of an Ulsterbus route. This can block new commuter routes as they need to travel within a tight time window for user demand. As you can imagine commuters want to be in Belfast by 9 am.
  • Blocking access to the bus stations: Rooney had to fight for years to get access to the Europa Bus Centre. They now have access at the cost of two grand a month. You might think fair enough, it is Translink’s station after all. But it was funded with public and European money.
  • Predatory pricing: if you do manage to jump through all the hoops and get a private service established, you might just find that Ulsterbus slash their prices on that same route to try to drive you out of business. Even if Ulsterbus are making a loss on that route.

We, taxpayers, subsidise Translink to the tune of £140 million per year. Even with that subsidy, they are still losing £10 million a year.

DRD needs to open up the market. Monopolies just make the big players lazy and complacent. Without proper competition, there is no incentive for Ulsterbus to improve their service. Translink is actually losing passengers: Passenger numbers have fallen from 80 million to 78.7 million.

A government department blocking innovation in a market is ridiculous. To entice people out of their cars there needs to be choice. Why should I not be able to setup a luxury commuter bus from Armagh to Belfast with nice comfortable seats, a toilet, free wifi etc.

The only way to get more people out of their cars is to let private companies get on with the job of providing good quality services that meet the demands of their local area. We need to stop blocking enterprise and innovation. There is also the obvious question of if private companies can see profitable new routes why is Ulsterbus not servicing this demand?

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  • notimetoshine

    I have been using the Eamonn Rooney service for years and it has made commuting by bus to Belfast practical and convenient. Not to mention well priced. I wouldn’t dream of commuting to Belfast by car or for that matter with translink either. It shows that there is definitely room for an expansion of private provision and with congestion as bad as it is this should be a focus of any transport policy.

  • Brian O’Neill

    If the Rooney service was not there would you switch to the Ulster bus service or go back to your car?

  • notimetoshine

    By car most likely. The ulsterbus services from Warrenpoint to Newry aren’t great at that time of the morning (or anytime really) and there isn’t anywhere to leave your car in Newry. Even if the connecting service from Warrenpoint to Newry was available it would add another five pounds to the cost of the journey. With the Rooney service I get Warrenpoint to Belfast for £8 a day.

  • The Saint

    Rooneys is excellent.

    Translink are a complete shambles.

  • hgreen

    We need to spend more money on segregated bus lanes to clearly show the benefits of taking the bus into Belfast. At the moment many bus lanes into Belfast have to fight for space at certain points with car traffic.

    Once clear segregated public transport alternatives are in place I do also think that Belfast needs to consider a congestion charge for certain times of the day especially for cars with single passengers.

    At rush hour most cars have only a single passenger. We are thus only currently using about 20% of our road capacity.

  • Ryan Matthews

    Privatisation is not the answer, many routes would disappear as a more balanced earlier article seemed to recognise – https://sluggerotoole.com/2015/05/30/experiences-of-bus-privatisation-in-gb/

  • Daniel Smith

    I’m usually not a supporter of privitisation, but the likes of Aircoach has proved the great benefits of a little competition to the user, in terms of a better service with comfortable features, more times to choose from and better prices.

  • aquifer

    “You cannot run a private route within 30mins of an Ulsterbus route.”

    When frequency will attract people out of their cars, this is lunacy.

    Free Wi-Fi now makes buses very attractive for users, but we have government conspiring to defeat its own policies.

  • AndyB

    There is an extremely good reason for that. The higher fare from Newry to Belfast keeps the fare on the loss-making local service from Rostrevor to Newry down.

    That’s the reality. Goldline services make the profits for Ulsterbus, and together with the most profitable Metro services pay for the loss-making local bus services.

    That’s why Rooney, which I obviously used to use when I visited Rostrevor from time to time, is cheaper. It doesn’t have any loss-making services to subsidise.

  • Surveyor

    The most ridiculous aspect of the so called Express service from Newry to Belfast is the fact that Translink stops twice in Banbridge to pick up passengers. This despite a new bus station being recently built in the town.

    Quite why Banbridge gets such preferential treatment is anyone’s guess.

  • AndyB

    Still allows Ulsterbus to operate on the hour and Aircoach on the half hour…

    The problem is what happens if Translink is unable to compete with the private firms. Say it starts making a loss on the 212 service. That has repercussion for other services, because the 212 profits pay for the loss-making services around the route to keep running.

    The Department gets away without having to pay Ulsterbus extra subsidy to run loss-making services as a result. If we were in GB, the subsidies would be higher, and so would the fares.

  • AndyB

    Because the passengers and the politicians expect it.

  • Philip Herron

    Translink is a joke. It’s purely being used to subsidise mangers on big salaries doing nothing. This is a case of socialism at its finest. Free market is the only way to fix this.

  • In England we are getting new railway lines, e.g. two different services between London and Oxford. And we get some very close train departures. So it should be possible to increase the train frequency or length in Northern Ireland.

  • AndyB

    Speaking of which, £2000 sounds like a lot for access to the Europa Buscentre, but it’s not even one adult passenger return fare a day for the five days a week the Rooney service operates.

    You’d pay more to leave your car in some of Belfast’s privately owned multi-storey car parks.

  • Gary Thompson

    Why not let private cars with multiple occupants also use the bus lanes? At the minute a bus or taxi with only a driver gets a lane to itself, while anyone car pooling has to be in with all the driver only cars. Makes no sense.

  • notimetoshine

    I don’t think it is as black and white as that, as such things never are. Without subsidy certain routes would never be profitable and therefore would be left unserved by the free market, yet there would still certainly for economic and social reasons, be a need for continued provision of services on those routes.

    However, it is clear that it must be easier for private enterprise to begin competing with Translink, especially in cases such as the Rooney bus where an opportunity exists for bettering services. This could be carried out quite effectively, if there were subsidies to ensure that other less profitable routes were maintained.

    I suppose it comes down to how much we want the government to invest in transport infrastructure. A properly funded transport system can do wonders for the economy of a region but our transport network is a disaster and is certainly impeding economic growth. A well funded transport infrastructure could do wonders for the economy, making transport spending more efficient and reduce the need for more and more capital spending on roads. But it comes down to money I suppose and a willingness to spend it.

  • notimetoshine

    Certainly I see why they are doing it, but it doesn’t seem very efficient to hamstring one service to support another. I think it is time to open up to competition, there are obvious benefits to be had. However the question I suppose is, how do you ensure routes such as the 39 are still served?

  • AndyB

    Only one way, and that is out of the pockets of the ratepayers. That’s the GB model, and it’s expensive.

  • notimetoshine

    Well expensive it is going to be, but then investment in infrastructure and transport brings with it economic and social benefits. Maybe it is just one of those expensive infrastructure costs that the State has always had to cover, like roads or defence.

  • Philip Herron

    I think your socialist utopia hat is on there is a time and place for government intervention. I would have said the sane as you a year ago then I found Milton Friedman I encourage you to watch him on YouTube. Nobel price winner of economics. You assume that government is the only way to have anything. Translink has been setting it self up as too big to fail which is bad for everyone. Our country is tiny abd there already are frig all services esp to the west. It can’t go on this way abd more subsidies for public transport is neo liberalism at its worst. It’s just theft of taxes for something useful now.

  • Surveyor

    Would private companies be interested in operating the small bus routes which wouldn’t make much money for them?

  • notimetoshine

    I am well aware of the works of Milton Friedman and of the Chicago school in general. And I certainly don’t have my socialist utopia hat on, that is for sure. I don’t believe in ideological approaches to problems, approaching an issue with predetermined notions of what will work. I am an arch pragmatist. I take what works from the left and right. I have nothing but contempt for the ideological approach.

    I do not assume that the government is the only way to have anything. In fact I explicitly pointed out that I believe that transport provision must be opened up to greater competition from the private sector. However government responsibility for infrastructure is a given so certainly government has a huge role to play in provision of transport services.

    Also without public subsidy, many of those services in places like the West would be unprofitable and therefore would not be provided under a strictly free market system. Not saying they can’t be provided by private companies but a subsidy would be required.

    Oh and I think you are getting your thinkers and ideas mixed up. You claim that you have discovered the works of Friedman, yet you claim that subsidies for public transport is neoliberalism at its worst. Yet Friedman is probably the most influential economic scholar in neoliberalism. Neoliberalism would want less subsidies not more.

  • AndyB

    Of course it would be possible, but there is no further subsidy available to buy diesel or pay staff to actually operate additional services. The politicians won’t provide the money.

  • AndyB

    You are of course aware that the free market would put managers on bigger salaries to make sure that rivals couldn’t poach them, increase fares, and cut all unprofitable services unless the Department for Infrastructure is willing to subsidise them directly, all to ensure better profits?

  • AndyB

    If those in the pooled car got the bus, there would be even fewer cars on the road.

    More seriously, allowing multiple occupants would be unenforceable. The PSNI never enforced bus lanes to begin with, the cameras might not pick up whether anyone is in the passenger seat, and there are enough cars with more than one occupant to slow down buses severely if permitted in bus lanes.

  • AndyB

    Only if the Department for Infrastructure is willing to pay them hundreds of thousands of pounds to operate each of three buses each way every weekday, and that would still be a better services than some places in England get.

  • AndyB

    Pretty much.

    Deregulation in GB was an object lesson in how the free market operates. Before deregulation, English bus companies all operated the same model as Translink – make your profits where you can, “hamstring” the popular routes by using them to cross-subsidise the loss-making routes.

    The post-privatisation model was to make sure that you won a monopoly on the profitable routes by pricing your rivals off the road or taking them over, and to refuse to operate lossmaking services unless the local authorities made up the gap between fare income and operating costs – regardless of how much profit the company was making in the area as a whole – and because the local authorities needed the unprofitable services to run, they had to cough up council taxpayers’ money.

    Maximise profits, highly inefficient operation that cost the passenger and the public purse more money than the old council operations. Welcome to the “free” market.

  • Philip Herron

    The reason they are unprofitable is because the service is terrible. I mean i regular get a bus from belfast to enniskillen. And it stops in the middle of nowhere over and over and no one ever gets on. It makes the journey at least 40 min longer than it should be. Its says its 2 hour 10 min journey but its always 2 hour 30 min. This is a big deal when in a care you can get there in 90 because of the really good roads now.

    The reason they are unprofitable is because people dont like the service therefore there is no demand. Make an actual express between enniskillen and dungannon at least that doesnt stop would be a big difference.

    Or the other side of this. There used to be a railway line to enniskillen there used to be one to newcastle. There used to be one to hillsborough. We dont have any of those now. All translink did was remove, remove, remove. If your going to be given a subsidy from government that money should have to be used to create new lines or something because the business is realiant on the money. Never mind i know what they spend on IT and its a joke.

    Or how i know people wrote web scrapers to make a handy ios app just to read time tables. Then they spend extra money making software obfuscate the timetable data. Like seriously?

    This company is completely out of touch with the real world and is destined to fail. And so it should. Thats the whole point of the free-market is that it allows for failure. If government put money behind anything they cant let it fail.

    A private company will die and no one else will be harmed. And in the ashes something new will be reborn. Right now this cant happen. More money just makes the problem worse.

  • Philip Herron

    Of course not but the reason they dont make money is because no one uses them. And why run services wasting a drivers time and fuel for something no one uses. This is supply vs demand.

    You cant make everything about equality in the world its not how it works.

  • notimetoshine

    The reason that many routes are unprofitable is because they are not viable propositions. The number of potential passengers could be too small, or the number of passengers per journey could be too low. Therefore if you want to continue those services for the greater economic and social good of the region, you have to subsidise those routes. Translink would be very profitable if it wasn’t obliged to support routes that weren’t profitable. However if that were the case services from the west (an under populated region of NI) could be cut to nothing, along with many parts of the country.

    There could be many reasons for there not being an express service between Enniskillen and Dungannon. There may not be the demand, it could simply be too expensive. You assume that an increased frequency would mean increased demand; but would that increased demand be sufficient to justify the extra cost?

    As for the rail lines, your neoliberal position should applaud the line closures as a piece of free market rationalisation. (of course it wasn’t Translink that did the closing but still). Those lines were inefficient, with the advent of mass car ownership and a change in commuting habits. Of course there is an argument for renewed rail services, but the cost of reopening lines or building new ones would be astronomical, and as all such infrastructure projects do, would require (gasp!) government subsidies, on a substantial scale.

    As for your point on the free market you aren’t quite there. A failure in a retail company or manufacturing concern might be painful but it happens. However a failure of a major national infrastructure provider is a different story. An operator that provides essential services to millions of people going under would be a disaster. That is why many countries abandon the concept of moral hazard when it comes to certain key sectors. To think that a company that has such a role in society can die without any painful consequences is naïve and is a very poor reading of free market economics.

    But most importantly, if Translink operated in the free market it wouldn’t go under. It would be able to drop the unprofitable routes it currently provides as a public service, allowing it to concentrate on the profitable routes. It has brand awareness, a fleet of vehicles, physical infrastructure and solid market knowledge. Translink would do very well as a private enterprise, though transport in NI would suffer.

  • Swindon Addick

    Anyone suggesting deregulation as a way to improve bus services really needs to come over to the mainland and try our rural bus services. Deregualtion led to multiple companies running services on the profitable routes and the less-used services disappearing. Be very careful what you wish for.
    Some people have mentioned the railways as a comparison. There’s very limited deregulation on rail, only a couple of routes provided by freelance operators. What we have there is franchising. Competition between private providers happens once every few years. They can and do offer innovation, but it’s extremely difficult for non-franchised operators to get into the market, with the result that socially-necessary but unprofitable services survive.
    There’s a good reason why London never deregulated its bus services, and the good service there, operated by private companies, shows deregulation isn’t a magic bullet. Don’t blame regulation for the failings of one operator.

  • Philip Herron

    Let me help you with understanding free market you said:

    “The reason that many routes are unprofitable is because they are not
    viable propositions. The number of potential passengers could be too
    small, or the number of passengers per journey could be too low. ”

    This means there is no demand.

    “Therefore if you want to continue those services for the greater
    economic and social good of the region, you have to subsidise those
    routes.”

    And you said you weren’t socialist? The greater good. So the greater good is spending money on a bus and driver and fuel to go to places no one uses his skills. Sounds like a good use of time and resources.

    “Translink would be very profitable if it wasn’t obliged to support
    routes that weren’t profitable. However if that were the case services
    from the west (an under populated region of NI) could be cut to nothing,
    along with many parts of the country.”

    Not true. If you have main routes connecting the main towns aka, enniskillen, omagh, derry, belfast, newry protush etc. Instead of having the enniskillen bus stop and lisneskea, brookebrough… end list list of random stops no one uses. The journe ytime would decrease and the serivce would increase in quality. It also saves fuel and drivers time. Better services means more people will consider it.

    “There could be many reasons for there not being an express service
    between Enniskillen and Dungannon. There may not be the demand, it
    could simply be too expensive. You assume that an increased frequency
    would mean increased demand; but would that increased demand be
    sufficient to justify the extra cost?”

    I never said any of that but anyways.You could argue an increase in frequencey simply due if you get rid of the stupid stops along the way to dungannon. As the journey time will decrease alot.

    “As for your point on the free market you aren’t quite there. A failure
    in a retail company or manufacturing concern might be painful but it
    happens. However a failure of a major national infrastructure provider
    is a different story. An operator that provides essential services to
    millions of people going under would be a disaster. ”

    Wrong. So if a governemnt run enterprise like fannie may and freddie mac in 2008 means all tax payers are liable to bail out the debt. Instead of the those responsible for the business alone. So you really arte ignoring the decicit spending here.

    Come on i am a free-market guy you are pretending to be a pragmatist. You are a socilaist. You think you know better than the free-market and anyone. Jordan Peterson tellus people like you are dangerous.

    As in the communist russia death camps wouldn’t happen if you were in charge right?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Hows about we allow the gloves to come off, private companies come in, Translink ditches the unprofitable routes (and mates’ rates if it still applies) BUT all the savings from the pruning are ploughed back into the railway side of things e.g. more carriages and re-open some old stations e.g. Templepatrick and where possible clawback some of the old railway lines (where possible, assuming the town ‘planners’ haven’t let developers build on them) as well as building the long anticipated platform at Dunsilly park and ride which could link up with the 212 bus and airport bus (which means you could get from Derry to the airport via public transport).

    Perhaps we could then install rural trams to curtail the traffic in places like Cookstown and Magherafelt (as in place trams on the old railway lines where possible)?

  • notimetoshine

    Look I don’t think you know what the word socialist means or you wouldn’t be bandying it about like that. I am most certainly not a socialist, I believe in taking what is appropriate from ideologies but I am not beholden to them. I don’t look at things through an ideological lens, it allows for pragmatism. Therefore if I see a policy from the left that works I will support it.

    Not that I have to justify myself, but I believe in free trade, low taxes, private enterprise and fiscal discipline. However I am not so blinded by my faith in a particular ideology that I refuse outright the idea or concept of government intervention.

    Regardless of whether Fannie and Freddie were government entities or not, in the context of the financial crisis they would have been bailed out. There was a systemic crisis of such magnitude in 2007/2008 that the ‘too big to fails’ would have brought down much of the world economy and led to a currency crisis of unprecedented proportions.

    That you cannot formulate a coherent argument and resort to ad hominem tactics shows me you lack the subtly and nuance to understand the wider issues being discussed here. I know what I am talking about, do you? You say I am one of those Jordan Peterson warns about? Yet what exactly is it? As far as I am aware I haven’t made any references to the social policies that Peterson is known for discussing, nor have I made any mention of identity politics? You sir, sound like an ideological drone, no different on the right from the left, spouting the party line regardless of context, nuance and accuracy.

  • AndyB

    Translink only closed one railway line, in the process of re-opening another one which saved passengers time. The Ulster Unionists closed all the other railways in Northern Ireland between 1950 and 1965 because they were so unprofitable.

    Translink actually runs more trains and carries more passengers than its predecessors on a smaller network.

    If free market principles were applied to NIR, EVERY railway line north of Dundalk would close in an instant because they are all loss-making. Nobody would run services because they would all require high subsidies – higher than Translink currently receives in Public Service Obligation because there’d be no netting off of losses against profits on bus operations. That’s free market reality.

    The main village stops you refer to Enniskillen-Dungannon are there because people use them, and great would be the fuss if Translink dared to withdraw them.

    You should also understand that cancelling feeder bus services – the loss-making services that run to main towns where people can pick up expresses – would lead to more passengers driving instead, because convenient interchange matters. Same as the Beeching and Benson cuts to the railways – cut the branch line services, and the passengers will just drive and not bother taking the bus and changing. It’s all easily observable.

    “Free market” in public transport will always fail, because the free market never meets consumer demand – as soon as you get away from certain high volume commuter routes, the true cost of providing the service will always be higher than the maximum possible income.

    Or to put it differently, the free market will only ever provide what consumers demand if the consumers are willing to pay for it.

    Finally, you don’t like “the greater good.” Well, it should exist. It needs to exist.

    Why?

    Because everyone has competing “rights,” and under free market libertarianism, it’s the one with the most clout and most money who wins, regardless of the harm to everyone else. Only the individual matters in that world view.

    So people create traffic jams unnecessarily by their choice of transport mode, causing harm to those who have no choice of transport mode, which in turn causes harm to the very people causing the traffic jams if they’re waiting to be served by the tradesmen and delivery drivers delayed by traffic jams. And so on and so forth.

    Proper liberalism balances those competing rights, because nobody has the “right” to harm or exploit everyone else.

  • AndyB

    If “no one” used the bus services, Translink would have culled them two years ago. That means enough people are using them (and transferring to other buses) to justify running empty in one direction to collect passengers in the other.

  • AndyB

    There’s a very good reason why there is no station at Templepatrick or Dunsilly – trains from Ballymena are already at capacity!

    Ditching unprofitable routes would have consequences for traffic later on. If, for example, you lived in Carrowdore and had to drive to Newtownards to get a bus, would you park up and get the bus or would you drive on to at least Dunlady Road if not the whole way to Belfast? That’s human, and it can cause a transport company to lose more money than just the fares collected for passengers only using the loss-making service.

    In the end, the politicians will block service reductions and fare rises at the same time as refusing to pay more to reflect increased (even only by RPI) costs to run the service they have. They always want it on the cheap, and they always want Mrs McNally in Ballywhatsit to get the same bus as they’ve got for 60 years despite nobody else getting it any more.

  • Ronan O’Hagan

    Would Translink be interested in operating the small bus routes which wouldn’t make much money for them if they were not paid to do so?

  • Philip Herron

    Finally, you don’t like “the greater good.” Well, it should exist. It needs to exist.

    Why?

    Because
    everyone has competing “rights,” and under free market libertarianism,
    it’s the one with the most clout and most money who wins, regardless of
    the harm to everyone else. Only the individual matters in that world
    view.”

    If own a chip shop and fry everything in beef dripping. Veggies cant come in and demand i change the oil to sunflower just so i cater for them. When i don’t have to. Its ok to have a gap in the market for someone else to fill.

  • Philip Herron

    government intervention is terrible it makes any problem worse. Translink is something i dont think should be run or managed by government period.

    Its ok to have gaps in the free market AKA not running the bus to those tiny stops you know.

    Its just a gap in the market to be filled.

    If there is enough demand then someone will supply it. Then you jknow hwat instead of just translink you will have lots of small transport operators throughout the country. You love the 1 big corporation idea.

    I hate it.

    In software engineering or unix everything is designed to be small and replaceable and do a single thing well. Unlinke windows big mess of something that can work well sometimes but usually doesn’t its the same principle.

    Your not argueing from principle your arguing from the perspective that if you tweak the market her you will create equality. Which is your socialism hat. lol

  • AndyB

    Of course it is. But in your model, the gap will never be filled.

  • Philip Herron

    That doesn’t mean that the service is making as much money as it is costing. Its impossible to tell and if anything this article proves that is false. How can it be when they are making an annual lose after such huge susidy.

  • Philip Herron

    Thats because your dont understand the free market. You have your socialism hat on. Steeling other peoples tax money to make you feel good.

  • Philip Herron

    Never mind some gaps in the market should be left to die. Look at how cars come about. People said they wanted a faster horse. Ford make a car. Then the demand for horse and cart transport died. Its the same principle. If the service to random town is not used. Then maybe the society is telling you people dont need it anymore. They all got cars because your service is too crap. You dont just keep running it and hoping some day because of your equality feelz that you get a good boy pat on the head by the god of government.

  • AndyB

    I’m afraid that it is you who doesn’t understand the free market.

    The free market only fills gaps if there is money to be made. If a given gap cannot be made profitable due to fixed costs (bus, driver, operator licence, fuel) it will remain unfilled, no matter how many people demand the service. To do otherwise would be insane.

  • Philip Herron

    Exactly. I never said they should be filled. If there is no demand then why fill it?

    Seriously your basing all your ideas on equality. You need to think about it. Equality of outcome is a bad idea. Thats communism.

  • Philip Herron

    Your have your equality hat on.

  • Philip Herron

    Equality hat on there again. Turns out the real world wants to exchange money for goods and services. And running a service which makes no money will only in turn tax us more to subsidise a crap business.

  • AndyB

    What about those who can’t drive?
    What about those who are obliged to drive by circumstance or profession, and are stuck in traffic jams created by those who want to drive but could reasonably have got the bus?

    That’s where society comes in. The individual cannot be king, regardless of the lies of the libertarians, because every exercise of individual freedom has an impact on somebody else.

  • Philip Herron

    You assume that anyone who makes any money is purely on hurting someone else. Your marxist. I am sorry but you cannot force everyone into society to think the way you do. Free maket and the individual is how people “voluntarily” come together. You would rather use state force and steel my money and sort your own problems out. Its not my problem that you have an issue getting to work. If i couldnt get to work by public transport i would do something about it. But its ok because there is demand for a train from lisburn to belfast it turns out.

    Seriously you need to stop thinking about equality of outcome its so dangerous. Its the idea that if you were dictator for a day you would make the world a better place. I don’t i would never think i know better than the free market.

  • AndyB

    No. Equality of opportunity more like. Fair chances. Opposing exploitation. Making sure that the brilliant are not limited by the selfishness of the less clever. Facing the fact that the “free” market is rigged by the rich and private monopolies to make sure that smaller entities cannot gain meaningful access. Just like bus deregulation in GB.

    And by stopping private companies from cherry picking. Just like bus deregulation in GB.

  • AndyB

    You’re a liar. I’m no Marxist. On the other hand, I can spell, and I’m also a pretty well-informed economist.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Andy, I know trains are at capacity by reading your articles hence why I suggested extra carriages.

    Wrt unprofitable routes I was thinking that things like Uber would start to plug the gaps, especially if some of the main towns could be reconnected by trams or trains and act as ‘hubs’.

  • AndyB

    But I thought you want all loss-making services closed – like the train from Lisburn to Belfast.

    Regardless of the public good created by all those passengers not clogging up the roads with cars.

  • Philip Herron

    Is it really equality of opertunity when your steeling taxes from your neighbour to fund your feelz? The free maket is fair. Marxism is really stupid. Its so ignorant to the complexity of running a business.

  • Philip Herron

    Lisburn to belfast is overpacked…

  • AndyB

    You said:
    “If there is enough demand then someone will supply it. Then you jknow hwat instead of just translink you will have lots of small transport operators throughout the country. You love the 1 big corporation idea.”

    This idea is utterly laughable. First of all, every county in GB works on the one big corporation idea, because the companies make sure they either put their competitors out of business or take them over.

    Secondly, there is no way that your “lots of small transport operators” would spring up. There is simply far too little demand, and if there was we’d have seen it appear long before now.

  • AndyB

    And the fare and concessionary fare income is less than the cost of operating the service. It’s packed but it makes a loss.

    Yet the public good of using your taxes to sustain it is far greater, because you’ve seen the traffic meltdown when the line is closed.

  • AndyB

    Free market principle:
    Consumers: We want
    Producers: here you are, £ please
    Consumers: thank you, here you are
    Producers: happy days, all stock gone

    Free market reality:
    Consumers: we want
    Producers: not interested
    Consumers: but we want
    Producers: we don’t care
    Consumers: what about supply and demand?
    Producers: oh ok, you can have it for £££
    Consumers: but it only costs you £ to make and so and so can get it in their area for ££
    Producers: good luck finding an alternative supplier to provide it here

  • Philip Herron

    Your reality is really fucked up. Your living in a bubble mate sorry i cant help you. You would rather steel money from other people this is the problem. None of your arguments have any pure principle of fixing yourself. Your all based in jealousy.

  • AndyB

    Only reason why not is that the Assembly won’t pay for them.

    Belfast is the classic example. If they won’t even put trams in Belfast, what hope anywhere else?

  • notimetoshine

    Who mentioned anything about equality? I certainly didn’t. I also have no issue with private competition. In fact I use private competition over translink all the time. However, subsidising transport in rural or underserved areas makes economic sense. You are increasing worker mobility allowing residents of an area to access more job opportunities.

    I am not talking about tweaking the market. I am talking about subsidies in areas and routes of economic importance that the market is not interested in due to low or non existent profit margins. Investment in infrastructure is not a socialist thing, in fact it is a very important part of a governments role in supporting a thriving economy. Not socialism. Frankly I think you need to do a bit of reading.

  • AndyB

    I’m glad you can’t help me. All I know is that I’m not the one living in a libertarian dream bubble where everything would just be fine if the free market were left to get on with creating monopolies, refusing to meet demand when it doesn’t suit, and making sure that nobody else can get onto the tree and do things better.

  • AndyB

    You might be wasting your time. You and I don’t agree on everything, because while I’m strongly in favour of fiscal responsibility, I’m willing to have more taxes to pay for services that the private sector does more expensively, but you and I can sit down and have an enjoyable yarn over a suitable drink.

  • notimetoshine

    I should imagine several suitable drinks could be consumed. I’m not sure about high taxation, but the Danes seem to manage quite well with high tax high spending.

    But I would love to see a major transport plan for NI. I think it could give us the economic boost required. Of course it would mean big spending, but infrastructure is a poor cousin in NI and has been for a long time. I would love more trains, because I like trains, but it doesn’t seem viable at present, not without huge investment.

  • Steve

    An interesting and timely piece

    Allowing greater competition on the coach and bus services in NI is long-overdue, but I would argue is only one element of the needed revolution in how transport is administered here.

    Having the same company operating the buses and trains also is not a good thing IMO. Historically it has just allowed Translink to subtly switch emphasis away from rail and towards buses instead – which they’ve been doing for the last 20yrs in Derry, until told otherwise by politicians recently. The sheer number of buses they put onto the Derry-Belfast route over the last 2 decades was combined with a systematic running down of the railway line between Derry and Coleraine and a desire within the organisation to see that section effectively closed. Thankfully they’ve been directed otherwise now, but the problem is still there. Translink have monopoly power over pretty much all public transport in NI, so can decide which of bus or rail is the option they want to pursue in any situation – motivated largely by their own organisational purposes. It should be passengers and politicians who make the calls re NI’s transport provision, not Translink.

    The article also ignores the potential of cycling to help address congestion in cities. Maximising the capacity that any road has is crucial – but that capacity should be measured in people movements, not vehicle movements. As evidence from London and elsewhere shows, by enabling and encouraging cycling you increase the total people-carrying capacity of roads. But to do so requires the reallocation of a small amount of road space to safe segregated cycle space. Which car drivers usually get very angry about (especially ‘professional’ drivers, who seem to belief the road is their’s alone). The potential for cycling to make a significant contribution to daily travel flows in Belfast is nowhere near being acknowledged, let alone met.

  • AndyB

    Me too, but we are where we are thanks to 1950-1965.

    One wee example. A wee halt near Abbeycentre would be perfect for me and work. Cycle to Central, wee quick trip to the office. Not that much slower than driving from home (where two buses could take an hour or more) and less hassle.

  • AndyB

    Unfortunately, when the politicians decide, they’ve nearly always favoured the cheap option – the bus. It wasn’t Translink who ran down Coleraine-Waterside, it was Direct Rule ministers and then local Executive ministers who neglected the railway beyond Ballymena for decades. Even now we’re still waiting for Waterside station, and Portrush station was overlooked in the resignalling due to cost (as well as the same problem as Waterside – lack of clarity about long term future of the station.)

    Translink has actually presided over more railway journeys each year than on its predecessors with more track, which is remarkable.

  • hgreen

    There is no need for cyclists to use the roads. The pavements in our cities are hardly used. These should be repurposed into segregated cycle lanes.

  • Dónall

    Translink should be nationalised. More routes should be added. More local services. At the moment the last bus from Newry to Belfast on Saturday night leaves at 7.30. Hardly a great service when in private hands. Why does Eamonn not run a coach at that time? Presumably because it is not profitable. But it is necessary. I think that a publicly accountable body needs to be put in charge of public transport otherwise only the most profitable routes survive, the use of cars in rural areas continues, and private companies dictate where those of us without a car can and cannot live.

  • Dónall

    People in the countryside would still need a bus service. For all its faults I can almost get to anywhere in Ireland using public transport. Ditching unprofitable routes would make this impossible. What we need is a reliable service not a money making machine. It strikes me that maybe the people commenting here don’t solely rely on public transport to get around. Policy makers should try using only public transport for a month before they draw up their plans. Town planners and architects should spend a week on a wheelchair and then draw up their plans ect ect Problem is most of our planners drive cars.

  • Dónall

    Mainland? Don’t flatter yourselves.

  • Dónall

    Idealogical arguments aside I don’t think the free market can solve the problems surrounding public transport Philip. We elect a government in order for us to better make collective decisions. At the moment we are facing an environmental crisis which requires collective decision making. We must curtail the use of private cars in order to improve the environment for future generations. I don’t think that any private company alone without government support would be able or willing to provide an all encompassing public transport service. This is why I would prefer a government run service (at least in part) and then private companies could operate on the more popular routes.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Translink is a public company.

  • Dónall

    I see Brian, thanks, my mistake. The service is not perfect but they get me to where I want to go.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Donall, please don’t think me unsympathetic to this demographic.
    Indeed, I remember being on the bus from Coleraine to Magherafelt a few years ago and the bus driver (whom I went to school with 20 odd years before hand, he’s been driving buses ever since, just like his father before him, also comforting) went out of the way of the bus’s route to drop off a disabled person in some out of the way housing scheme.
    I thought it was a nice touch and very ‘Northern Irish’ and I was ticked at witnessing it.
    However, there was hardly anyone on the bus.
    That was a full blown 50+ capacity bus, X amount of diesel and a driver all for the sake of a tenner (maximum).
    If it’s a question of ensuring mobility of disabled folk around the country then I’d advocate re-opening the railway lines between all major towns and Uber/Taxi vouchers for disabled/elderly people.
    That way we could ditch dozens of buses, routes and drivers and save a fortune to be re-invested in train lines which would help ease congestion and reduce the number of by-passes, widening schemes and motor way up-grades that are seemingly endless in their expense, expanse and costs.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Brian, out of curiosity do you happen to know what the Translink bus drivers get paid?

  • dcfcsteve

    It’s neither sensible nor feasible to use pavements to create safe cycle infrastructure.

    For a start, it’s not true to say the pavements in our cities are hardly used. It’ll obviously differ by area, but a lot are used a lot. And surely we want to encourage people to walk more, not less.

    Also – when you consider that a very high proportion of car journeys are for trips of 2 miles or less (e.g. whizzing down to the nearby shop or petrol station to buy milk, cigarettes etc), then they’re exactly the sort that it would be better for everyone to encourage making by foot.

    You won’t reduce congestion by preserving car space & squeezing what you hope will be increasing numbers of pedestrians & cyclists into a diminishing space. It’s vehicles who’s dominance of public space needs curtailing to enable & encourage the much healthier & societally more beneficial alternatives. After decades of pretending otherwise, mist progressive cities finally get this & are introducing changes accordingly.

  • Dónall

    Don’t worry Am Gobsmacht your humanity always comes out in your posts above all else. It is true that so many workers in Translink go above and beyond for their customers and as someone who used their services everyday I cannot complain. Their dedication should be applauded. Sure the service could be improved but this could be said of any company. We are lucky to have these people who are willing to go the extra mile to ensure the safe return of their neighbours and friends.

  • hgreen

    Tailbacks on the saintfield and Ravenhill roads every morning. Pavements empty. Dunno where you live but obviously not along any major commuter corridor.

  • Brian O’Neill

    No idea. But it’s easy to argue that with more bus companies this will mean they need to compete for drivers and it could increase drivers salaries.

  • Dónall
  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Right, what if we were to turn sections of the motorways into toll roads (with the gates being just after turn offs situated near the railway lines).
    Use the money to put on more trains, reduce ticket prices and to build more stations.

    And allow some bus companies to compete for popular routes, all the more enticing with the roads being theoretically freed-up.