Green campaigners and unions hit out at bus and train cutbacks
Green campaigners have hit out at plans to axe bus services and slash train journeys because of budget cuts.
One city and 13 towns could lose their urban bus services completely next year.
Another seven will see their services slashed if draft budget proposals are approved.
Unions and environmental campaigners have criticised the plans, which are detailed in a confidential memo obtained by this newspaper.
Gordon Clarke, who is director of sustainable transport charity Sustrans, said he was concerned by the news.
"We recognise that some routes may not be economically viable but Government should be doing all it can to promote public transport and encouraging people to make a few changes to their daily travel choices such as taking the bus, walking and cycling," he said.
"The solution lies not in cutting routes, but promoting the variety of active travel options which will lead to healthier lifestyles and cut pollution and congestion on our roads."
The proposed cuts contained in a draft Department for Regional Development budget paper also include:
- No more overnight bus services between Belfast and Dublin Airport, and reduced frequency of day services.
- 50% less stops on longer Goldliner routes.
- Reduced frequency for Metro services on corridors one and seven in Belfast.
- And cuts to train services, particularly between Portadown and Newry and between Whitehead and Larne.
The Unite union vowed to defend bus and rail services. Davy McMurray from the union called the plans "totally unacceptable".
"Slashing local bus services in 14 major regional towns, reducing local pick-up points and cutting the frequency of services will have a hugely adverse impact on the most vulnerable sections of our society," he said.
"It is an attack on older people, the disabled, families with children and those who just cannot afford to run a car - all of whom are dependent on public transport to go to the shop, library or other essential services.
"Proposals such as fare hikes and cutting back on rail services will only further undermine the economic sustainability of Northern Ireland's public transport system and force further cuts as user numbers decrease further."
A Translink spokeswoman said the company was responding to potential cuts of about 20% in DRD funding.
She said withdrawal of services would focus on those routes which were used less frequently.
"DRD is facing cuts of around £65m to its budget for 2015/16 and as a result there could be reductions of some £15m in the total departmental funding to Translink. A draft budget consultation document for 2015/16 is currently out for public consultation. The impacts of the reduction on my budget have not been agreed at this stage. However, the financial constraints are so great that there will certainly be very difficult decisions ahead."
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy