Transport Minister, Danny Kennedy has said that he will not support any plans to privatise Translink.
The Minister was responding to an Assembly motion on the Committee for Regional Development’s Inquiry into Comprehensive Transport Delivery Structures.
Danny Kennedy said: “I was very disappointed that this report was subject to media comment before the Assembly had a chance to debate it. Headlines such as ‘privatisation of Translink’ cause concern and anxiety for staff, particularly in these times of economic uncertainty.
“It is important to note that public transport in Northern Ireland is going from strength to strength. Passenger journeys are rising at significant rates and last year alone rail journeys were up by 800,000 and bus journeys by 300,000. In fact I expect passenger journeys to increase by over one million this year, potentially exceeding 80 million.
“Reviews of punctuality, reliability and customer performance show that Translink is meeting the standards set for it. With so many positives, it is important that we continue to build on this success.”
Turning to the Committee’s proposals for competitive tendering and franchising of the existing network the Minister said: “I must say I was very surprised by these recommendations. It is important that the Committee explain the difference between privatisation and franchising. In the 2011 Transport Act, which was passed by the Assembly, a clause was included that most public transport services would continue to be provided by NITHC/Translink.
“This is something I strongly support. The fact is that a large part of the Ulsterbus network and parts of the Metro network are unprofitable. Translink uses profits from the well-used routes to cross subsidise the unprofitable routes, many of which are in rural areas.
“What’s more, while it may be worthwhile for private operators to gain some cost savings in the short-term through reducing staff numbers and pension provision, in the long run this could be difficult to sustain because of the number of unprofitable routes.”
On the issue of an ‘independent body’ the Minister said that point is that the public transport authority was to be independent of NITHC/Translink, not the Department.
He said: “The Transport NI arrangements I have put in place will deliver this. My Department will now provide a detailed response to the Committee’s report.”