Belfast Telegraph

Saving Northern Ireland's rural bus routes a task for Stormont

Editor's Viewpoint

It is obvious that Translink cannot continue to subsidise unprofitable routes on its network to the tune of £13m a year. That is the amount the transport provider has been spending from its own reserves for the past three years, since subsidies from central government were discontinued.

Now the carrier is warning that if something is not done by 2020 it may have to cut its services, leaving thousands of passengers, most of them in rural areas, without transport.

Translink admits that these are socially necessary services. Many people living in rural areas or large estates on the fringes of towns rely on public transport to get around.

They need it to travel to banks and post offices given the number of branches which have been closed in rural towns and villages.

Public transport is also required for these people to go shopping in bigger towns, or even to visit friends.

Without these services many people would feel totally isolated and dependent on relatives, neighbours or friends to ferry them about.

It has to be accepted that Translink, even allowing for its privileged virtual monopoly position as public transport provider, has acted responsibly in funding the shortfall in its finances from its own coffers, even if some people will wonder how it managed to build up those reserves in the first place.

And there is a certain irony in the attitude of government to public transport. In cities, through the use of bus lanes, it is attempting to force people to switch from cars to buses. Yet in the areas where public transport is most necessary, the withdrawal of subsidies will lead inevitably to buses being withdrawn from certain routes.

Government statistics show that there is a huge population of elderly people - those aged over 60 - who are willing to use public transport because of their free travel passes.

In 2016-17 there were almost 329,000 such Smartpasses issued - 5% of them to people with disabilities - and some 69% of them were used at least once during the year.

This is yet another day-to-day problem which requires scrutiny by local politicians sitting in an Assembly and Executive. It may not be the most pressing problem facing this society, but it is of sufficient gravity to those who will be affected for some action to be taken.

Could some of the £1bn won by the DUP for keeping Theresa May in office not be used to safeguard existing routes?

Belfast Telegraph

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