Belfast Telegraph

'We beat Government targets... and customers love our service'

Translink chief executive Catherine Mason speaks to the Belfast Telegraph about the company's performance in 2012-13

We have 1.5 million more fare-paying customers choosing to use bus and rail services in Northern Ireland, so that's a very successful year in terms of customers, split half and half between bus and rail.

Commercial performance is strong and also we've got really excellent customer satisfaction, particularly in the area of on-time performance and value for money.

We've had highest customer satisfaction ever for Northern Ireland Railways and Ulsterbus, so it's really very good.

We compare well with Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

In the Republic of Ireland things are not going so well for CIE (Ireland's public transport provider), and although rail is growing in Great Britain, that wouldn't be the case for bus.

For the total year end we had 78.5 million passenger journeys, so we have beaten the Government target of 77 million. It wasn't all down to concessionary fare travel, as we hear people saying.

Concessions have been flat and all the growth is down to fare-paying customers.

We can't tell how many people there were but we can tell the number of journeys and the trend in those journeys.

Concessions is a struggling market rather than a growing market for us.

Rail was up 7% to 11.5 million, back to levels of the 1960s, but obviously now it's a much smaller network, so that's a huge increase over the last decade. That's due to a successful rejuvenation of the railways in Northern Ireland.

You may have read that the Enterprise is going downhill. The Enterprise grew 12% last year so our journeys were up last year and continue to grow this financial year as well, so it's very robust.

It's not like it was a decade ago, but probably £100m has been spent on the road between Belfast and Dublin and substantially less on rail services.

On the recent fare increase – and the company's high profit figure for 2012-13 and what will happen to the profits, Nobody ever welcomes a fare increase and we never use it as our first course of action, but our last course of action.

Although I completely understand nobody welcomes a fare increase and I don't ever want to do a fare increase, it's the last course of action and sometimes it's the only way of balancing the books. You don't want service cutting – we want to maintain the network.

Fares here are very low compared to Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Profit is something that has to be made to be able to reinvest for the future and to be a sustainable business.

You cannot continuously lose money, because you have to leave yourself on the right side of a going concern so that you can actually have your accounts signed off and make sure you're sustainable.

We do have £60m in cash in the bank but the DRD funding does go down very substantially after 2012-13, so we will have to buy more assets out of the cash and also will need to effectively use it to see ourselves through the losses that will be sustained in the next couple of years.

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