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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)

Translink manager admits late night service across NI lags behind other parts of UK and Ireland

Bus in Belfast at nighttime

Translink has admitted it is “lagging behind” other parts of the UK and Ireland with night services in Belfast and across NI, and has said this Christmas it has to operate a “commercial service” due to tight budgets.

At a recent special Belfast City Council committee meeting, representatives from Translink spoke to elected representatives at City Hall to explain challenges regarding the late night bus and train services, and increased prices. 

Unlike many services across Britain and Ireland, Belfast only has late night services at special designated periods, usually Christmas. This year late night Belfast bus services began from Friday 24 November followed by late night train services and bus services to other towns and cities across NI beginning today, Friday December 1.

Late night Belfast Metro bus services will depart from the city centre between midnight and 1am at the weekends, and will see a special Nightmover fare of £6 for a single journey. This is a significant price increase on previous years.

The first day of late night services across NI has been disturbed by a 24-hour strike by Unite, GMB and SIPTU union members who have accused Translink of a “pay freeze.” Ulsterbus, Metro, Glider and Goldliner services, train services and school buses have all been affected.

At a special meeting of the City Growth and Regeneration Committee at City Hall, Damian Bannon, Translink Area Manager for Belfast told the council:

“You are all aware of our financial pressures. We are similar to many other public sector organisations, there are significant budget constraints. The funding environment is quite challenging, and unfortunately the (Stormont) department wasn’t able to add any additional funding for the night services.

“10,000 people travelled on the Christmas night services last year – we were very encouraged by that. That said, it is quite a costly operation, and we would have required some level of funding to have the same service as last year.

“This year we have to operate a commercial service, and in turn the smart link cards won’t be valid this year, which is a significant change for folk. Within the metro we have a £6 fare. That is different, and probably not the way we would like it, but it is a function of where we are.”

He added: “We do recognise a night service is not just for Christmas. We recognise there is a need to roll this out and have a sustained longer term service. It is probably a timing issue at this stage. 

“We are as an organisation committed to a night service, and in the fullness of time I think it is something we will help deliver, but at the moment we are not quite there.”

He said: “The £6 is purely a covering cost. Our costs are outstripping our revenue at the moment and any additional burden is something the department couldn’t sanction at this stage. It is not profiteering in any way.”

He said: “In the last 25 years we have had five iterations of night services, some of it heavily funded by the council. To the point it was given away for free. 

“For one reason or another it never took off, that is we never had the quantum of people to sustain that. That is not to say we don’t want to revisit that. Licensing laws have changed, the city has changed, more tourists are coming in.

“We also realise we are lagging behind places like Cork, Dublin, and if the benchmark is setting ourselves against other parts of the UK, this is one area we fully recognise we need to improve.”

He said: “This is something we want to grow and develop, and we think there is a market there. There is a huge amount of support, a huge amount of media interest, it is just a matter of getting it up and running. We are hoping to lever some support, as we enter the new year, with the view to putting in a more sustainable service.”


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