Translink: warning on major service cuts

The Irish Railway Developments blog have been forwarded a Translink Briefing paper on imminent funding cuts. These cuts will have a significant impact on Translink’s ability to deliver rail and road services in Northern Ireland. Already Translink have the lowest subsidy of any transport operator in the UK. These cuts will result in the biggest withdrawal of public transport services in Northern Ireland since the 1950s.


Department of Finance Briefing on Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20


 It is well known that public transport has a key role to play in developing vibrant, modern and competitive cities and regions.

Translink provides essential public services to the people of Northern Ireland, which impacts on all our citizens, supporting economic growth, social inclusion and the welfare of the local communities we serve. More people using buses and trains also helps to address the challenges of congestion and air quality, creating healthier towns and cities. These benefits also impact on the delivery of many of the Programme for Government Outcomes and Key Indicators. See link:

The Department of Finance (DoF) has recently published a briefing paper on the broad strategic issues that will help inform decisions on a Budget for 2018-19 and 2019-2020 (and 2020/21 for Capital). The decisions in a Budget have the potential to impact on the delivery of public services and on the lives of every citizen. The budget briefing document sets out a number of scenarios. The scenarios are not proposed budget settlements and no decisions have yet been taken. Their purpose is to illustrate the kinds of choices that will need to be considered by Ministers in reaching agreement on a Budget.

The potential impact of funding challenges on public transport is one of the areas that has been considered in the DoF scenarios document, and this paper sets out the implications for Northern Ireland if there is to be insufficient funding for public transport services in the future. In particular, it outlines the necessity to reduce current service levels or curtail the development and growth of our public transport infrastructure should such a scenario materialise.

Investing in Public Transport services makes sense for everyone…

  • More people are choosing the bus and train – over 80 million passengers last year, over 1.5m additional fare paying passengers last year (2016/17) and further increases experienced this year.  This is down to the ongoing efforts to enhance services and customer satisfaction.
  • Better public transport is the right choice for individuals, for the community, supports active travel, for the environment and for sustainable development – everyone benefits from a better quality of life.
  • Investing in public transport can enable greater productivity benefits in other public services, such as facilitating the consolidation of services in health and education though improved public access.

Current Funding for Translink…

The Public Transport authority in Northern Ireland is the Department for Infrastructure (DfI). In 2015, the DfI awarded a Public Service Contract (PSC) to Translink for 5 years to deliver bus and rail services within Northern Ireland. The PSC documents the network of public transport services that Translink is contracted to operate, and the subsidy/compensation which Translink receives to operate these services.

The subsidy calculation allows Translink to cross-subsidise unprofitable services on the network with profitable services so that the total compensation, and burden on public resources, is reduced.

The DoF briefing paper highlights current and potential funding challenges:

Due to reduced subsidy for bus and rail services since 2014-15, Translink has maintained the public transport network by sustaining annual losses of around £13 million. These losses have been covered by drawing on reserves, but there is limited capacity for this to continue beyond the 2019-20 financial year.

There would be a requirement to significantly reduce the public transport network to ensure financial viability going forward. This would require a substantial reduction in service levels.”

Translink currently maintains the overall network coverage bolstered by its reserves, but this is not sustainable. We have already delivered major cost efficiencies over recent years, the scale of which cannot be repeated without a major impact on services.

To add some context to this, the level of expenditure on public transport in Northern Ireland is much lower than in other regions of the UK (see graph below), even though the network coverage is much higher at approx. 80% of people having access to some form of public transport.

Expenditure per capita on public transport in UK

expenditure per capita

Insufficient funding will ultimately mean having to make some tough decisions and this is highly likely to result in network changes, including the withdrawal of lesser used services in towns and rural services.

Potential impact of Service Cuts

Public transport provides a vital lifeline to those who have no other mode of transport, either through choice or necessity. The consequence of cutting or reducing funding would have a direct impact on their quality of life and access to services, to family and friends and to their communities.

Most impacted would be commuters, young people, older people, people with a disability and those on low incomes. This could lead to increased inequalities, and impact on vulnerable groups who rely on public transport to access a range of other services.

There would also be a disproportionate impact on services in rural areas, where public transport provides a vital lifeline for many to access local amenities including healthcare.

Further to this, the proposals contained within the budget briefing are not in keeping with the overarching policy direction as set out in the draft Programme for Government. This would not only have a detrimental impact on the objective of ‘increasing the use of public transport and active travel’ but also impact on the other outcomes and indicators which a strong public transport system underpins, undermining Northern Ireland’s potential for economic growth and sustainable development.

We need your support…

Over the last year, Translink has developed a strategy to grow public transport, in line with the PfG.  This has halted the decline in passenger numbers previously experienced. This year (2017/18), we are set to achieve over 81m passenger journeys, the highest level in recent years.

There is a clear policy decision to be made around the spending on public transport and achievement of PfG goals. There is an urgent need to address the subsidy/compensation levels being paid to Translink, or we will have to make major changes to the network offered on rail and bus across Northern Ireland. Given that we are already considerably behind other parts of the UK when it comes to funding for public transport, the choices we would be faced with are stark.

You may be considering your response to the DoF paper and if so, we would urge you to consider the implications for public transport and the knock-on effect future funding decisions can have on many other public services and provisions for your organisation and those you represent. Against the clear context outlined in this paper, we would specifically call for your support to highlight the importance of a properly funded public transport system, supporting regionally balanced economic growth, social inclusion, access to health and education, relieving congestion and improving air pollution.

There is considerable value and return in investing in our public transport network that will help enable Northern Ireland to thrive.

Please feedback on the DoF briefing document by 26 January 2018 at 17.00.

You can find details at or by emailing: