Translink drive a profitable bargain
The fare-paying public is entitled to feel baffled by the latest annual report of bus and train provider Translink which reveals its profits almost doubled last year. Even when a one-off sale of land and pension contributions are stripped out, profits increased by 65%.
So why then did the company have to increase bus fares by an average of 3% and train fares by an average of 5% just two months ago?
It is little wonder that many people feel they are being taken for a metaphorical ride.
For it has to be remembered that Translink, which is a public transport monopoly in the province, was given £146m of taxpayers' money to supplement revenue and to fund capital projects. That is a tremendously privileged position for the company to be in and doubtlessly explains why it is able to turn such a handsome profit.
The company argues that the profits will be reinvested with some set aside for rainy days ahead when funding from the Department for Regional Development goes down. It already has £60m in the bank for such an eventuality and with passenger numbers on trains and buses increasing surely the future cannot be all bleak? The DRD committee is meeting Translink officials next month and, hopefully, will ask some tough questions on behalf of passengers and taxpayers.
And already some members are wondering if a privatised transport system would not provide better value for money. Translink has always argued that such a move would mean non-profit-making rural routes would be axed leaving many people without access to public transport. But it could be that some small subsidy would help retain those routes.
Another option would be to open public transport up to proper competition. At the moment users of the buses and trains are being hammered twice – through their taxes and through rising fares – and then see the company make big profits and pay top executives very generous wages.