Translink unable to buy new buses as DRD cuts bite

Drastic cuts in public transport funding mean that Translink will not be able to buy a single bus in the next two years.

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Drastic cuts in public transport funding mean that Translink will not be able to buy a single bus in the next two years.

In order to keep its 1,400-strong bus fleet on the road in good condition, the public transport company needs to buy an average of 90 buses each year.

But severe cuts in its capital investment budget mean it cannot afford any purchases next year.

The cuts are being imposed by the Department of Regional Development.

The DRD is the same department which is responsible for the controversial bus lanes introduced in Belfast City Centre.

Capital investment in public transport was £90.7m in the year past, but it drops to £25.7m this year before hitting £13.3m next financial year - an 85% cut over three years.

And there is no certainty of investment thereafter until a new budget is agreed with Stormont.

Shortfalls

The amount of money Translink receives to fund reduced fares - a key source of income - is also being slashed by almost one quarter. The cuts come at a time when the company is being asked to increase its services.

The financial pressure means that Translink is likely to be forced to increase fares to meet the shortfalls. It is also likely to face growing problems with an ageing fleet and greater costs in the future associated with maintenance and repair.

Spending on public transport in Northern Ireland has been historically low compared to other UK regions, but Translink has seen increases in passenger numbers associated with improved services.

New trains have led to an increase in passengers of almost 70% over the last ten years, and the investment in the Metro bus system in Belfast has helped boost bus passengers by a more modest 6% in the same period.

'Investment'

But the company has never faced such dramatic cuts in its budget and there are fears that any progress made in recent years could be damaged by the current lack of funding.

A spokesperson for Translink did not want to comment on the figures. They said talks with the DRD were ongoing in relation to future budgets.

A DRD spokesperson said: "We have just announced £29m for the purchase of 145 buses. A number of these buses were introduced to service last month with the remainder to be introduced later this year and early 2013.

"After a significant period of investment in the Translink bus fleet, it is expected to meet set government targets for accessibility (100%) and average age at the end of this year.

"Further bids will be made to assist Translink to continue to reinvest as necessary going forward."

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