Lagan Valley MLA Pat Catney has expressed concern about the future of Translink services in the constituency.
The SDLP man was speaking after party representatives met with Department of Infrastructure officials and were informed that the public transport provider is looking at a £13m deficit that can no longer be filled by reserves or efficiency savings.
“Reliable and affordable public transport options are critical for people throughout this constituency. For many, it’s more than just a quick way to get from A to B, it’s their primary link to friends, family and the world around them,” Mr Catney said.
“DfI has told us that Translink is facing an annual deficit of £13m, primarily from Ulsterbus. In previous years that has been funded from efficiency savings and the company’s cash reserves. That will no longer be possible from next year, leaving service cuts the only area left.
“Any reduction in core services would be a disaster for our towns and particularly for older people in our rural communities.
“This further underscores the need for an Executive to make funding decisions in line with the needs of our communities. Rural communities and the vulnerable cannot be cut off because of political failure.”
Responding, a Translink spokesperson said: “Public transport provides vital services for everyone, connecting people to work, education, hospitals, health centres, shops and social activities. It also supports social inclusion for older people, those with disabilities and the many people who don’t have access to a car.
“The level of expenditure on public transport in NI is around 50% of that in other regions in the UK and this correlates with the number of passenger journeys per capita also being about half of the UK average, clearly there is a direct link between investment and creating a service that more people can access.
“Translink has been running at a loss for the past three years and has been utilising its own reserves to maintain the public transport network coverage, however, this is not sustainable.
“There is an urgent need to address compensation levels being paid to Translink for the parts of the network which are not profitable, but necessary for social inclusion.”
Asked if any services in Lagan Valley were under review, the spokesperson added: “If there is a continued funding deficit, Translink will review how best to design our network to work within our allocated resources; while protecting the routes most important to our customers.”