Belfast Telegraph

Four out of five Ulsterbus routes ‘are unprofitable’

Over four out of five Ulsterbus routes are unprofitable, an Assembly committee has been told.

MLAs were told a few key services across the province are paying for the remainder, but were assured there was no threat to any particular existing service — at least for now.

A senior official from the Department for Regional Development — which is responsible for public transport policy — put the ‘unprofitability’ figure at 85%.

A spokeswoman for Translink said the details of the unprofitable Ulsterbus routes would be commercially sensitive and would not be disclosed.

While the Government does not subsidise the routes, it does fund Translink to enable it to buy new buses. The department approved funding of £118 million to Translink to purchase more than 850 new buses from 2005 through to June of this year, and all are now in service.

It is proposed a further 29 new buses will be ordered by the end of the financial year.

A DRD civil servant told the regional development committee that it was hoped the current system enabling cross-subsidy from more profitable routes to others could be safeguarded.

The committee was meeting to discuss new organisational proposals for public transport, including the bus system, following a recent review and new legislation.

Committee chairman, UUP MLA Fred Cobain, asked: “Did I read somewhere that 80% of Translink’s routes are unprofitable?”

DRD official Sean Johnston replied: “That relates to Ulsterbus. The fact that 85% of its routes are unprofitable means that it is depending on a few key routes to pay for the lot.”

Sinn Fein MLA Billy Leonard suggested a swathe of routes will be left unserved.

“It is possible that an awful lot of unprofitable routes will be struggling to serve under the new regime. Are we going down that route?” the East Londonderry Member asked.

Brian White, of the public transport division of DRD, responded: “It is quite the reverse. The proposed new regime is aimed as much at safeguarding the current position, which enables cross-subsidy from more profitable routes to less profitable ones.

“That is not to say that there will not have to be discussions in the future about whether, and to what extent, routes are supported, but that is entirely proper,” he added.

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