Private operators could help with increasing passenger numbers
The Chief Executive of Translink has detailed how his staff faced a serious public safety situation as hundreds of young people descended on Helen’s Bay and Crawfordsburn over the last weekend.
Chris Conway said that at one stage over 1,400 youths were crammed into stations at the seaside destinations and that staff had no option other than putting themselves at risk to control the situation.
“It was very clear a lot of drink and drugs were taken. It was very difficult to control, even for the PSNI,” he told the Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday morning.
“Public safety took precedence. We had to get the crowd dispersed.
“We deployed over a dozen staff to the unmanned halt at Helen’s Bay after the reports that large crowds had gathered on the beach.
“They all had to be removed within a few hours by staff putting themselves at great risk.
“There was a danger of crushing or falling on to the tracks.
“We arranged trains in such a way that anyone who was using the train normally could socially distance on that but in other areas we just had to get people on to the train and dispersed,” he said.
“The staff handled it well and I’m sure it’s not the last time we will face those difficulties.”
Passenger numbers are now increasing and services are close to a Saturday service.
Mr Conway also told the Committee that revenue for Translink has been “next to nothing” during the Covid-19 outbreak as the company faces a £114m shortfall.
“Additional support will be required to ensure we maintain a viable public transport network going forward,” he warned.
He told the committee that staff furloughing is not applicable to Translink in its public service role.
“We would see a reduction in our salary bill on the basis of working a total different shift pattern,” said Mr Conway.
“Our saving around our network at the minute is probably running at about £250,000 on a sort of weekly basis.”
“There has been a Sunday service on most services to enable essential workers to travel safely,” he continued.
“Passenger numbers are now increasing and services are close to a Saturday service in urban areas and on the rail network.
“We are operating at around 10% of our normal passenger demand at the minute, at 80% of normal capacity on rail network and metro services and 60% on Ulsterbus.”
Key time for us will be when schools return in September and how we manage that.
As passenger numbers increase Mr Conway said Translink would work with private operators to manage the growing capacity in line with social distancing requirements.
“But the number of passengers means there is significant capacity in place to manage social distancing,” he added.
“The key time for us will be when schools return in September and how we manage that. Discussions are under way with the Education Authority and Department of Education as to how that will work.”
Mr Conway also said that Translink hadn’t seen a huge uptake on the recommendation of wearing face coverings while using public transport.
“It’s for the government to decide if that becomes mandatory or recommended,” he said.
“I use public transport, I wear a mask and try to show that leadership”.
Of 4,000 Translink staff, there have been less than 10 positive Covid-19 cases, which Mr Conway said was an indication on how well prepared Translink was to deal with a very challenging situation.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been supplied to staff and additional initiatives like perspex screens in buses have been implemented.
The introduction of safe zones for conductors is also to be considered to ensure safety of staff.