Cuts to bus routes on hold as union works on a rescue deal
Transport bosses have parked plans to cut town centre bus services in a bid to chart a new route through the Stormont spending constraints.
Translink has put the brakes on reducing bus frequencies to allow trade union Unite to produce its own cost-cutting proposals.
Unite had warned the proposals would see some towns in Northern Ireland lose their urban services while buses in Belfast and elsewhere would be less frequent.
There was speculation that cuts to Translink's budget could lead to around 200 job losses and a severe cut in the city of Armagh, as well as Belfast and towns including Ballyclare, Carrickfergus, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Newcastle, Omagh and Strabane.
The plans could also mean no more overnight bus services between Belfast and Dublin Airport and reduced day services; 50% fewer stops on longer Goldliner routes and the withdrawal of some Ulsterbus links from small villages to larger towns
But Translink chiefs say they welcome the involvement of Unite in "finding further cost reductions" and have put their recent public consultation "on hold".
The delay comes after a meeting between Unite and Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who has warned a drop in bus services is "inevitable".
The minister has had his departmental budget cut by £60m (18%), and revealed Translink was en route to make a projected loss of £10.8m this financial year.
"The draft budget left Translink facing pressures of £15m (and) in the finalised budget, I have allocated an additional £2m to Translink for town services reducing their budget shortfall to £13m for 2015-16," he said.
"While Translink is undertaking a number of actions in order to reduce its funding pressures, it is forecasting an increase in its in-year deficit, bringing the total projected loss to £10.8m in 2015-16.
"Although the network will continue to operate on its current geographical basis, it is inevitable, given the funding constraints, that there will be reductions in frequency to some services.
"However, in taking forward any proposed service rationalisation, Translink is consulting with passengers, local community representatives, politicians and other stakeholders."
A Translink spokesperson said: "The recent public consultation on bus and rail services closed at the end of April.
"Following a meeting with the minister Mr Kennedy and the Unite trade union last week, Translink put on hold the outcome of their recent consultation process to enable members of the Unite trade union an additional period to produce an alternative set of efficiency proposals for consideration
"We look forward to discussions with union officials to ensure Translink can be put on a sustainable financial footing for the future. That is why the management team has been driving forward a change programme within Translink over recent months and we welcome the support of trade unions in finding further cost reductions."
A spokesman for Unite was not available, but union representative Davy McMurray warned last month the plans would discourage the uptake of public transport, increase reliance on more environmentally damaging forms of transport and isolate rural communities.