Translink racks up £170k taxi bill to get staff to work - because they can't get a bus or train
Translink is spending tens of thousands of pounds on taxis to ferry staff to and from work.
The cash-strapped public transport operator ran up a six-figure tab for private hire vehicles during the last three years.
Ironically, the company cited a shortage of appropriate public transport links as one reason for its use of taxis.
The expenditure was revealed after an Assembly question from Ukip MLA David McNarry.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy confirmed that in the three years to April 2014, Translink had spent £174,008 on taxis.
Mr McNarry, a member of the Assembly's regional development committee, said he was "astonished" at the spending.
"This is absolutely unacceptable from a company that cannot function within its budget and is not fit for purpose," he said.
Taxi expenditure has fallen in recent years, from £70,494 spent in 2011/12 to £38,888 in 2013/14.
Over the three-year period, the average spend was £160 a day.
Mr Kennedy said Translink had advised that its use of taxis is closely regulated and they were only used when it is the most "economically viable solution".
"Some staff involved do not drive or have access to a car," he said.
"In addition, there may not be appropriate public transport links to the destination at the time of day required, which is often very early or very late in the day.
"These annual costs are less than the significant costs that would arise should services have to be cancelled due to staff not being in the correct place."
Translink said some expenditure related to service disruption, where passengers as well as staff needed to be transferred.
However, Mr McNarry said it raised more questions than answers.
"They actually make my argument for me when they say they use taxis because there isn't good enough public transport - what an admission," he added.
"That is the joke of the month. The public know all about the poor state of public transport, only they don't get free taxis."
Earlier this year it emerged that 3,972 employees of Translink and their families are entitled to free transport.
Despite facing severe budget pressures, the company has said it has "no plans" to remove the perk.
Mr McNarry added: "Translink offer free transport not just to staff, but to their families also.
"It is interesting to now see this astonishing figure for the taxis."
The spending will raise eyebrows at a time when Translink is facing huge cutbacks.
In March, the company's chief executive warned that the company could go out of existence unless it either hikes fares or makes cuts to its services.
David Strahan told a Stormont committee that Translink's future would come under threat within the next three years.
Translink announced in December that bus and rail fares would rise by 4%.
The price hike - which is more than three times the current rate of inflation - took effect from February.
According to Translink's most recent annual report, salary costs across the group increased from £97,411,000 in 2013 to £105,790,000 last year.
A Translink spokesperson said: "We do not as routine use taxis to get people to or from work.
"This is only done when necessary to get staff to or from other than 'home' depots, in the event of unscheduled working, often very late at night or very early morning, or in the case of service disruption such as security alerts, where we need to transfer passengers as well as staff."