Belfast Telegraph

Just 5% of Northern Ireland journeys on bus or train despite millions in investment

By Brett Campbell

Only one in 20 journeys in Northern Ireland are made using public transport - despite more than half a billion pounds of investment over the past five years.

According to the Travel Survey, which collects yearly transport data for the Government, 71% of all journeys between 2014 and 2016 were made by car.

Only 5% of trips were made on public transport, leading to calls for even more money to be poured into the sector.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said the figures show that it is "time to end the under-investment" in public transport.

"We need to increase the proportion of the transport budget that we spend on public transport," he said.

"It is still the case that this figure remains at around 20%, despite previous transport strategies targeting a figure of one third."

The North Down MLA said he has observed for himself that trains in Bangor are frequently overcrowded, despite investment in public transport.

"These statistics show that where there is good public transport provision - it is used," he added.

Mr Agnew expressed his hope that investment in Belfast's Rapid Transit System will see a significant shift in city centre traffic.

In July, the Department for Infrastructure, formerly the Department for Regional Development, confirmed it had given Translink £363m of capital funding and £179m of revenue funding since 2011 to promote and enhance public transport.

But only 43 of the 897 annual trips taken by the average person between 2014-16 were made by public transport, indicating no significant change in five years.

Over a quarter (26%) of respondents cited "expensive fares" as a reason for shunning bus and train services.

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said the survey shows more work must be done, but appealed for a shift in the conversation away from infrastructure.

"It is a noble goal to encourage people to use public transport, but we must recognise that the car is an essential tool for many people, especially families, and we must facilitate that," he said.

"Far from being a success, some of these measures have actually created traffic congestion and the truth is that public transport is too expensive."

Gordon Clarke, the Northern Ireland director of walking and cycling charity Sustrans, called on the government to work across departments and "ring-fence funding to invest in safe routes to school".

Mr Clarke said the charity's Bike Life Survey shows that active travel is grossly under-funded, with just £6 spent per head in Belfast.

He warned of "congestion, poor air quality and less liveable towns and cities" if that amount is not significantly increased.

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