Belfast Telegraph

Private firm's bid to run new bus service to north west turned down


By John Mulgrew

A bus company planning to run an express service between Belfast and Londonderry in a £4m investment has said it is "disappointed" at a government decision to turn it down, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Hannon Coach, based in Aghalee, Co Antrim, and led by Aodh Hannon, wanted to run a service operating up to 20 times a day.

But it can be revealed that the Department for Infrastructure has denied the firm a licence to operate the route.

It said it is "unable to issue a bus service permit" for a number of reasons.

The department said that, due to the high level of existing service and fare levels, it is "already adequately and economically served".

And it said the "granting of a service permit... would have a negative impact on current Translink services".

"Ulsterbus is already operating at a significant loss year-on-year and the grant of the proposed service permit would have a detrimental effect on its finances," it said.

If the licence had been approved, the buses could have run from Translink bases. It would have been the first significant competitor to Translink's monopoly on bus services in Northern Ireland.

Hannon Coach is the newly-formed business from long-established Co Armagh firm Hannon Transport, which turns over more than £20m a year. It's understood the department wrote to the company with its decision yesterday.

A spokesman for Hannon Coach told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are, understandably, very disappointed with the decision of the Department for Infrastructure as communicated in writing to us.

"This would have represented a very significant inward reinvestment, in total in the region of £4m over 3 years with the creation of 15+ jobs. The proposal was based upon sound transport economics and advice from a leading expert in the field which does not appear to have been taken into account in any meaningful way.

"The department cited 'the relative similarity of the fares' as one of its few reasons for rejecting our application - given that the fares we proposed were a minimum of 17% cheaper and up to 42% cheaper for a couple travelling on an open return this is very difficult to accept.

"The decision by the Department for Infrastructure sends a very bad signal to anyone wishing to invest in services to help stimulate travel and tourism in Northern Ireland.

"We will seek a meeting as soon as possible with the department to voice our concerns.

In May, Derry City and Strabane District Council wrote to the Department for Infrastructure to say: "The view of the members was that they would not be in favour of a service permit being granted in this instance."

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, who hails from Aghalee, had said the council should take a fresh look at the business's plan.

A spokeswoman for Translink said it was "very much committed" to delivering high quality public transport in the North West.

"Connectivity has recently been further enhanced for the region with the introduction of the new hourly rail timetable to complement our fast, frequent 212 Goldline coach service.

"Passengers now have over 50 Translink coach and train services every day to choose from to travel between NI's two largest cities. We also offer a range of everyday good value, competitive fares such as Smartlink multi-journey tickets offering discounts of around 30% for bus travel compared to paying cash fares."

Belfast Telegraph