By Neil Moore
Translink have worsened the blow from February’s announcement of a 7% increase in bus & rail fares with yesterday’s announcement of the ending of “early-bird” commuter fares. This fare hike, which could see transport costs for some commuters increase by up to 75%, is truly staggering in the midst of both cost of living and climate crises.
This will not only disproportionately affect workers who rely on cheaper commuter fares but also those who rely on public transport as their only means of getting to work, school or medical appointments, particularly in rural areas.
With this announcement, the Department of Infrastructure has laid bare how out of touch they are with those that use Translink services and what needs to be done to reduce emissions and the amount of private vehicles on our roads. Rather than investing in the expansion and improvement of the public transport network, politicians have consistently made choices that result in placing an unfair burden on those who can least afford it.
This is yet another example of the Tories attempting to make workers pay the price for stalemate in Stormont. This was reflected in the statement from Translink: “The fares revision follows a statement by the Secretary of State regarding the need to uprate public transport fares to address the sustainability of public transport and ensure services are maintained…” Local politicians are not off the hook either. It is clear that the root cause of this fare increase is the chronic underfunding of public transport by the Northern Ireland Executive.
For years, our public transport infrastructure has been neglected, with investment prioritised for car-centric infrastructure projects. This has left us with a system that is underfunded, unreliable and lacks the necessary frequency and coverage all whilst pricing workers and young people off buses and trains.
This has led, in reality, to a model that sets Translink up for moves away from public transport as a public service to one that prioritises profitable services at the expense of rural, inner-city and off-peak services.
We urgently need the creation of a fully publicly-owned and funded, integrated transport system. This would not only benefit the service users but would also contribute to the reduction of emissions by reducing the number of cars on the road. Such a system could and should be provided free-of-charge and run under democratic control of commuters and transport workers that would provide a fully accessible, affordable, frequent and reliable service for all.