Belfast Telegraph

Translink needs £12m a year top-up from Stormont

By John Mulgrew

Translink says it needs another £12m a year from Stormont to help turn around big losses amid hopes cash could be freed up from Northern Ireland's bumper billion pound pot from Westminster.

And chief executive Chris Conway has not ruled out fare hikes, which will be looked at once again at the start of next year.

He was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as the public bus and train operator saw passenger numbers rising to almost 80 million, up around 1.5 million in 2016/17, compared to a year earlier.

Translink saw its overall operating losses rising once again, up to £10.9m. Mr Conway says the company needs further cash from Stormont to keep afloat, as it continues to eat into its own reserves. Translink, which operates NI Railways, Metro, Ulsterbus and Goldline bus services, saw overall revenues rise slightly to £205.2m for the last year.

It has around £30m in cash reserves, which allows the public transport firm to operate.

But Mr Conway said, while it has brought its consolidated losses to an almost break-even level, due in part to an increase in the value of its property and cost-savings, that it needs around £12m a year in order to stem the flow of cash, primarily on loss-making routes.

It currently receives around £20m a year from Stormont.

"However, it doesn't take away from the fact that at an operating level we are running at a £10.9m loss, last year," he said.

"The only way to solve this underlying operating loss is to look at the routes we are operating at a loss, across the network.

"...we have been funding them through our reserves, but we feel now that it's time the government needs to pay the public service obligation to address those.

"If you plan it out, we estimate that it's around £12m a year. When you compare that to other public transport companies across the UK and Republic of Ireland, that's probably half."

But asked whether an additional handout from Stormont is even less-likely, due to the lack of an Executive, he said: "It was well understood by the Minister while he was here, and it's well understood by the Department for Infrastructure and the Department of Finance.

"But the overall Northern Ireland budget has to be settled yet. Until that is done, we won't know how that will be allocated."

Asked whether additional money could come from the DUP's £1bn deal with Theresa May's government, he said: "A lot of it was capital on that, but if there is additional revenue support in there, we would hope that there would be some."

Belfast Telegraph