Editor's Viewpoint: It's time Translink did a U-turn
It reads like a joke. Did you hear about the Irish bus and rail company that spends thousands of pounds on taxis to ferry its staff about because public transport links are inadequate? However, this is no laughing matter for many passengers paying a recent fare increase for what the company, Translink, admits is not a first class service.
This is a story teeming with ironies. Not only is Northern Ireland's sole public transport provider spending an average of £160 a day on private hire taxis, but it has also been warning that the company could go under if it cannot cut costs. It has earmarked some 60 redundancies in its management structure in a bid to reduce its running costs.
The company's argument that its taxi bill is for staff who have to work either very early or very late and sometimes includes passengers whose journeys have been disrupted by bomb alerts, doesn't really stand up.
How many other companies find it necessary to provide free taxis to get employees to and from work? The company already allows its near 4,000 employees to travel free on buses and trains - and, astonishingly, also their families.
If it wanted to cut costs, or raise additional revenue, this family perk is one that the company should examine closely.
Instead, Translink prefers to pass on its financial woes to its paying passengers who faced an average 4% fare increase in February.
How many of them get free transport to their places of work if they have to start early or stay on past normal quitting time? The answer is likely to be very few. Just like the Translink employees, many people find themselves living in areas where the public transport system is patchy at best. Unlike those employees, they have to take their own cars or pay for alternative transport to get to work or even to the shops.
Deregulation of transport in Britain led to greater competition among companies and attempts to keep fares down in order to attract customers. Transport providers had to become leaner and more innovative in order to survive and that perhaps is a lesson which Translink should have to take on board.
It may be time to consider removing Translink's privileged monopoly status and introducing the company to the rigours of the market economy. That would certainly send a chill wind through the company, but it would also force it to examine its services and also its needless expenditure.