The bill comes amid concern the public transport provider is facing “ongoing funding uncertainty” in 2022
Translink has been hit with a bill of nearly half a million pounds to replace two buses targeted in hijackings last autumn.
A Freedom of Information request made by the Belfast Telegraph has revealed it cost around £482,000 to replace both diesel double deckers.
In November a bus was hijacked and burned in Newtownards during civil unrest sparked by loyalist opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Within days a second Translink bus was targeted by masked men in Newtownabbey and set alight.
The attacks prompted a walk-out by Translink drivers in protest at the incidents.
A third bus was also hijacked in Belfast’s Shankill area last April, which would bring last year’s bill up to an estimated £723,000.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon warned last month she is “battling to ensure the survival” of the public transport provider.
In a statement the North Belfast MLA said the latest bill to replace buses mean diverting funding from improving services.
“Translink buses are public assets. Without them people can't get to and from work, or school, or hospital appointments,” explained the Minister.
"By having to fund the replacement of these buses, we are diverting resources away from improving our public transport offering which is critical as we seek to tackle the climate emergency.”
Translink has been beset with financial difficulties in the past which were compounded by a dramatic fall in usage during the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021 Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said “ongoing funding uncertainty” was a “significant risk to the financial sustainability” of Translink.
At the time, he said despite increased funding, he anticipated Translink will sustain a significant loss in 2021-22.
Alliance MLA Andrew Muir, who has urged Ms Mallon to take steps to put Translink’s finances on a “more sustainable footing”, insisted this was another bill the transport group cannot sustain in the long term.
“At a time when finances are scarce and Translink is under immense pressure as a result of drop in passenger numbers, we can ill afford to see fleet destroyed,” he said.
"We ought to be investing in cleaner, greener ways to travel, not having Translink find monies from already stretched budgets to replace burnt out buses.”
The North Down representative stressed the hijacking incidents were a “stark reminder” of the “futility of violence” given “hundreds of thousands of pounds went up in smoke last year as a result of the criminal actions of thugs”.
"Anyone with any information on this criminality contact the police without delay,” added the MLA.
Ms Mallon insisted bus drivers and public transport users “deserve to feel safe and be able to go about their business without fear”.
"Thankfully no one was hurt in these incidences which must have been a terrifying experience for all involved,” she continued.
"The safety of our public transport passengers and staff remains my top priority and, in line with this, my Department and Translink continue to work closely with colleagues in the PSNI and other relevant partners including the Department of Justice to focus on community safety.”
Translink, meanwhile, has said it is operating a cash reward scheme – offering up to £1,000 to any member of the public who witnesses an incident such as a hijack and is prepared to give evidence in court that results in a conviction.
A spokesperson for the transport organisation said it repeated its condemnation of last autumn’s hijackings on its vehicles and staff.
“Our drivers provide a vital front-line service, helping people travel to work, school and family. We work within communities across Northern Ireland and any attacks on staff and public transport services are extremely disappointing. We completely condemn this type of behaviour and continue to work closely with the PSNI to report and investigate any incidents.”
It also stressed all criminal incidents are reported to the PSNI and it assists investigations by providing CCTV footage when necessary.
“Translink meet regularly with the PSNI Neighbourhood and safe transport teams and key council/community safety forums to review responses and follow up on prosecutions and interventions,” added the spokesperson.
The Department for Infrastructure has been contacted for comment.