Belfast Telegraph

Bus and rail passengers face inflation-busting price hikes

Outrage as NI Railways, Ulsterbus and Metro all raise fares

By Nevin Farrell

Bus and train users across Northern Ireland will be hit with an inflation-busting fares hike early in the new year and it has sparked fury from consumer groups and politicians.

The fares rise was announced yesterday by Translink group chief executive David Strahan, whose £155,000 pay packet is more than Prime Minister David Cameron's.

Hard-pressed travellers will have to dig deeper into their purses from February onwards, despite falling fuel prices and a possible reduction in train and bus services recently revealed in the Belfast Telegraph.

From February 16, the average increase will be 4.5% on NI Railways; 4% on Ulsterbus, and in Belfast, Metro bus fares will increase by 10p per journey. Inflation currently runs at just 1.3%.

Mr Strahan said: "Raising fares is always a last resort. We have frozen our fares for almost two years, thanks to increasing passenger numbers and ongoing efficiencies across the business.

"However, like many organisations we have seen many of our costs rise and are facing challenging financial pressures in the year ahead; we now have no option but to increase fares across our bus and rail services.

"Even with these increases I am confident travel by bus and train is better value than taking the car," Mr Strahan added. Aodhan O'Donnell, interim chief executive at the Consumer Council, said public transport users were demanding answers.

He said: "The Consumer Council cannot give passengers the assurance that these fare increases are justified, set at the right level or even if there are more to come in 2015.

"There is an agreed fare review process that the Department of Regional Development (DRD), Translink and Consumer Council engage in prior to any fare increase but this process has been ignored.

"The only information passengers are receiving today is headline figures on average fare increases across Ulsterbus, Metro and NIR. This is not enough."

DRD committee chairman Trevor Clarke of the DUP tweeted that he was "aghast" at the fare rises.

Ukip MLA David McNarry said DRD minister Danny Kennedy needed to justify the announcement which was timed to be "buried on a busy news day".

He said: "This is a disgrace. It is abundantly clear they hold the Stormont DRD committee in contempt. The minister is bound by duty to consult the committee on issues like this.

"There has been no consultation. Translink seem to think they are above all scrutiny by implementing these increased charges."

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"Translink have, for years, been receiving a 43.1p per litre fuel rebate estimated to be worth £10.5m a year. They are asset-rich and have millions in the bank. Translink are due to receive a £9m pay-out from the budget. Yet they penalise the public, who are propping up their entire operation, with fare increases." David McNarry

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