Interview remarks indicating Chief Executive’s equivocal attitude to privatisation deeply concerning
Translink management stall on delivery of Unite’s ‘cost-saving’ proposals, refuse to disclose findings of studies on NITHCo’s extensive property portfolio
September 16th: Unite officer for Translink Davy McMurray, whose union represents the majority of the workforce in Northern Ireland’s public transport provider, has blasted comments made by the company’s Chief Executive, Chris Conway, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph earlier in the week [Tuesday, September 13th]:
“Chris Conway’s ‘soft-focus’ interview in Tuesday’s Belfast Telegraph provided him a platform to test the water on another fare hike and to leave open the possibility of privatisation.
“His comments were deeply concerning as any proposals to break-up or privatise Translink are completely unacceptable. They will be defeated by Unite, the wider trade union movement and the general public. Privatisation has had a devastating impact on public transport in Britain. Rail passengers in England pay the highest fares in Europe yet, as we see day and daily, often have to sit on the floor of carriages due to a lack of investment; meanwhile rural bus services have all but disappeared in many areas as privateers cut non-profitable routes leaving local councils trying to reverse this situation by reintroducing public ownership and control.
“The impact in Northern Ireland would be even worse as 85% of our bus routes are loss-making. It is only through the cross-subsidisation enabled by having a single public transport provider that we’ve been able to maintain our existing network coverage.”
Turning to the Chief Executive’s statements which appear to open the door to a fare increase in the near future, Mr McMurray said:
“Mr Conway’s interview left the door wide open for yet another hike in fares. While it is undeniable that public transport in Northern Ireland is chronically underfunded by the Northern Ireland Executive, there can be no justification for raising fares. Indeed raising fares actually lowers receipts as it pushes passengers onto other forms of transport.
“Unite has worked hard over the past year to develop a suite of proposals for offsetting savings which would avoid the need to raise fares. Sadly, the delivery of these proposals has been hampered by management stalling and inaction; indeed, recent hiring suggests that they are intent on reversing the efficiency gains from last year’s cull of unproductive management.
“Despite their public commitment to work with Unite, Translink management refuse to disclose the findings of recent studies they have commissioned on the financial return from NITHCo car parks and property portfolio.
“Unite remains confident that with a collaborative approach to lean-management and a fair funding model, Northern Ireland could boast a world-class, efficient and low-cost public transport service.
“Instead of doing interviews with the press, Chris Conway would be better employed in overhauling Translink’s management culture which sees fare hikes and service cuts as the only route to balance the books”, Mr McMurray concluded.