SDLP East Derry MLA Gerry Mullan has said that alarming predictions by the Chief Executive of Translink concerning cuts to public transport provision, particularly in the rural areas, must not be ignored by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Mr Mullan called for a solution which embraces the need for integrated public transport services.
He said: “Pilot studies in Dungannon have long been completed, good working examples have been examined in Dublin, Cardiff and Glasgow but nothing significant has happened here in the North which would avert the inevitable hit to public services as a result of the forthcoming cuts.
“If rural bus services are closed then free transport for older people will be meaningless because there will be no links to main bus and rail routes and taxis are out of reach of many people who simply cannot afford them.
“High quality transport has a critical role to play in ending the isolation many rural communities feel. The effect of cuts and underdeveloped infrastructure means that the Executive has not embraced the kind of integration that is essential to ensure that rural people can avail of the range of transport services that are currently available to other holders of free passes.
“Privatising public transport would be a disaster and would signal the end of universal travel. It would mean private operators cherry picking the best routes and leaving the less profitable abandoned. That has been done before and there is no need to repeat mistakes of the past.
“The continuing subvention of public transport is critical but that doesn’t mean there can be no change. The critical factor missing is a working model designed to integrate public transport and tailor it to the needs of the individual passengers and particularly those who depend on it.
“The Assembly has dilly dallied long enough, shoved this issue down the line and sat on their hands. Now is the time to lay out future plans for a public transport service which builds on what is tried and tested and brings it all together in a way that eliminates duplication and wastage.”