Belfast Telegraph

Fury as bus and train fares rise after £8m bailout for Translink

By Claire McNeilly

Plans to implement inflation-busting price hikes on bus, train and coach services across Northern Ireland have sparked fury among hard-pressed consumers.

Translink said ticket prices will increase by on average 3% on Metro and local Ulsterbus routes and by 5% on NI Railways from May 6.

But the Consumer Council’s director of policy, Aodhan O’Donnell, has warned commuters they could end up paying much more than that.

“A number of fares are increasing at a higher rate than the average that is being reported,” said Mr O’Donnell.

“We are advising passengers to check with Translink to find out what their new fare is going to be.”

Translink's chief executive Catherine Mason announced the price hikes at a meeting with the Regional Development Committee at Stormont yesterday.

It means that most bus fares will go up by 10p and travelling by train will cost up to £10 more for a monthly ticket.

The Airport Express bus service will also increase by up to 50p, with a single journey to Belfast International rising from £7 to £7.50 and a return ticket from £10 to £10.50.

The DRD committee chairman Jimmy Spratt criticised the move and voiced concerns over the effects of price rises on hard-pressed consumers who have already bailed out the company.

“Last year, Translink told us that they were facing £17m losses and the committee stated that the department would respond to Translink threats to increase fares with a bailout,” said Mr Spratt.

“We are proven to be right — almost £8m of bailout money was given to Translink by the department this past year.”

He added: “However, the committee has now learned that Translink has also identified £5.8m in reserves”.

Mr Spratt said the committee would press the department and Translink to identify how much of the reserves remain, where they came from and why the public and taxpayers are bailing out a commercial organisation when “it appears to be sitting on a substantial pot of money”.

“The department has tried to sugarcoat these increases by saying that rail fares will be held until 2015 and that these increases are less than any in the UK and Ireland,” Mr Spratt said.

“That will be of little consolation to those hard-pressed customers who have shown faith in Translink over the years, particularly in the very difficult economic situation.”

Ciaran Rogan, Translink's marketing executive, said the company's fares “have not kept up with inflation” and this would be the first increase on some fares for five or six years.

“We know any increase is unwelcome but I would urge customers to start paying the lowest fare for their journey,” he said.

Mr Rogan urged regular public transport users to take advantage of Translink's multi-journey travel cards.

The Consumer Council said increasing public transport fares would be an added burden to people already struggling to make ends meet.

Mr O’Donnell said it represented “more bad news for consumers at a time when the cost of living is increasing but incomes are not”.

“Consumers consistently tell us that fares are the most important aspect when considering whether to use public transport, so this will do nothing to achieve the NI Executive's objective of getting more people out of the car and onto public transport,” he said.

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