Bus competition might not be in interest of public

A letter from Andy Boal:

By Letters
Friday, 23rd July 2021, 10:14 am
Updated Friday, 23rd July 2021, 10:26 am
Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Owen McLaughlin of Hannon Coach complains (‘Minister stripped us of a basic right to run public bus route,’ July 9, see link bleow)that private bus companies were being denied the opportunity to operate services not already provided by Translink particularly true (non-stop) express services.

On the face of it, it’s a valid complaint. Translink’s business model has always included multiple waypoints on express services, because it is required to provide a service to those waypoints, and the alternative is to run multiple buses, one non-stop, and one for the waypoints.

However, there is another side to the argument, and that is protection of the ratepayers.

Translink’s bus services are broadly self-funding after concessionary fare reimbursement: Goldline Express, together with some Metro routes, funds the diesel and staff to operate the remaining bus services in NI.

In normal times, it’s a fine balance, but apart from new buses and a few thousand pounds for rural transport, Ulsterbus and Metro broadly paid their own way until a past minister withdrew the fuel duty rebate on diesel fuel from all operators.

If a new operator wishes to operate true express services over a route already provided with a limited stop service by Translink, the loss of passengers to the competitor will damage that fine balance, leaving two options.

One, an increase in fares to make good the difference, which may lead to more passengers not able or willing to afford the service.

Two, and more likely, a mixture of service cuts on loss-making services and a demand for Public Service Obligation funding to keep remaining services going — to be paid from our rates.

Neither option is in the interests of the travelling public or the ratepayer.

What is desperately needed is not more express coaches without integrated ticketing to save a few minutes on a long distance service, but rather additional services to places whose existing Translink service is either infrequent or non-existent.

Andy Boal, Belfast BT6

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