The plans will see Ulsterbus asked to cut 3% of current costs (£10 million), Metro bus asked to cut 4% (£1.4m) and NI railways asked to cut 3% (£1.4m). It is likely also that vital bus routes to rural and outlying urban areas will be cut with new powers devolved to local councils.
In addition, private companies will be asked to compete for all new contracts with the existing public providers, including the contract for the new Rapid Transit system in Belfast. The Minister, Connor Murphy, has said “There are private operators out there. We want to ensure that they work alongside, to enhance and improve public transport provision. But Translink will be the main provider”.
This part-privatisation will inevitably lead to private companies cherry-picking the profitable routes with the public operators managing the rest. In order to increase profit margins, private companies will attempt to drive down wages, increase fares and milk whatever public subsidies they can obtain.
The privatisation of the transport system in Britain has been a disaster. More public money is now spent on the rail network now than in the final years of the nationalised British Rail! An efficient, fully integrated transport system that meets the needs of society can only be built on the foundations of full public ownership and proper funding.
These measures are further evidence of the Assembly parties agenda of privatisation. The public will be invited to give their views on the plans during a series of meetings in December and January. Workers should attend these consultations to protest against these plans. Unite, the union which represents transport workers must oppose the opening up of transportation to the private sector. Workers terms and conditions cannot be protected by seeking assurances from Conor Murphy or any of the other right-wing Minsters. A campaign needs to be launched to defend the idea of a fully public and properly funded transport system.