Ulsterbus heroically kept services going through the violence

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Ulsterbus is so long established now in Northern Ireland that it has become a subconscious part of the fabric of the Province.

But its founding 50 years ago, in 1967, just pre-dated the Troubles.

That meant that the transport company, which took over from the Ulster Transport Authority, had a baptism of fire.

Ulsterbus valiantly continued to operate all the way through the violence, which reached its peak in 1972.

Many vehicles were hijacked or damaged, yet heroic drivers kept the services going, despite the risk to them.

We report today on one driver who was hijacked five times, yet still speaks fondly of the job.

To hear the stories of Ulsterbus staff is to hear in microcosm a history of the Troubles, and the fine people in all walks of life who ensured that society continued to function.

The cost of replacing so many buses was so great that sometimes second hand vehicles were used.

Anyone who remembers buses from even the late 1980s will recall that they often had bench seats with hard backs, that would unrecognisable from the comfortable seats of today, replete with seat belts. Now there are digital signs at stops that inform passengers of delays and timetables that can be read online from a smartphone.

The bus service that we have today is a tribute to the drivers and staff who soldiered on, despite the ruin of 1,500 vehicles and the death of 12 drivers during the Troubles.

If Ulsterbus staff had gone on mass strike or abandoned dangerous routes, the men of violence would have triumphed, but the bus crews did not give up.

How best to provide public transport will be debated extensively in the decades ahead, but bus services will always have a key role to play in assisting the lives of those who cannot drive or do not want to do so, as Ulsterbus has done now for half a century, in fair weather and foul.