New Northern Ireland bus link to challenge Translink services
Translink's monopoly on public transport in Northern Ireland is being challenged as a new bus firm plans to compete head to head, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Hannon Coach wants to run an express service from Belfast to Londonderry and back - operating up to 20 times a day between the cities as part of a multi-million pound investment.
If approved by the Department for Infrastructure, the buses could run from public transport provider Translink's bases at the Europa Bus Centre in Belfast and Foyle Street station in Derry.
But it could also add direct links to areas such as Coleraine and Portadown, it's understood.
Hannon Coach is the newly formed business from long-established Co Armagh firm Hannon Transport - which turns over more than £20m a year.
The company believes the new service will knock 10 minutes off the journey, and also see an increase in passenger numbers, including tourists, visiting Derry city and the north west.
It's understood the business submitted its formal application and proposals to operate the new route to the Department for Infrastructure last week.
That included an application for a 'commercial bus service permit' to operate a regular non-stop express service between Derry and Belfast.
The firm says the link would be the only express service between the two cities.
To be considered an 'express', each passenger journey must include a 'closed door' element, which is not less than 30 miles.
That means passengers must not be picked up, or set down, within that period.
In effect, other companies cannot compete with Translink on any of its timetabled services.
However, Hannon is proposing an express route which it says Translink is not offering.
Hannon Coach managing director Aodh Hannon said: "As a company, we have always been prepared to move our business forward. Our move into the coach industry is a continuation of our diversification strategy."
Hannon Transport has also recently diversified into the steel business. While other operators have competed on shorter routes before, Hannon's foray into the market is the first significant move from a private bus operator in recent years.
On a daily basis, Translink operates 12,500 bus and train services across Northern Ireland. It receives around £140m from Stormont each year.
Translink's losses grew by more than £2m as passenger numbers fell by more than a million in the space of a year, according to its latest results.
The bus and train operator reported a pre-tax hit of £10.5m for 2015/16, with the loss to be covered by its cash reserves, which now sit at around £40m.
The public transport operator is continuing to cut costs across its operations in a bid to stem the losses.
Passenger numbers fell from 80 million to 78.7 million during the period, which saw revenue of £202.9m.
It's faced criticism in the past for having a "monopoly" on the public transport market here.
In 2012, the former chair of a Stormont scrutiny committee said it was time to consider a challenge to that.