As we invest in the future of Northern Ireland over the coming years, it will be important to recognise the role of public transport in protecting the environment and connecting communities, writes Chris Conway, Translink Group Chief Executive.
The positive impact of bus and rail services on climate and congestion, public health, social inclusion and road safety can’t be overestimated, public transport is a safe means of travel, with a lower risk of being involved in a road traffic collision and measures in place to keep everyone safe and limit the impact of Covid-19. Numerous recent scientific studies have shown that public transport is much safer than other public spaces or gatherings, a testament to the work undertaken by the industry, alongside assistance from passengers.
Public transport underpins Northern Ireland’s ability to build back responsibly and sustainably; Translink is well placed to help the community adapt to altered circumstances and to deliver zero carbon transport for Northern Ireland.
Translink continues to provide a comprehensive public transport offering, including school services and rural networks, as well as urban and commuter services. These services are essential to sustaining vital jobs in dependent sectors across the economy. We must continue to maintain and expand a comprehensive network to help deliver a sustainable recovery that tackles climate change and improves air quality while also supporting economic growth.
The public transport network in Northern Ireland is an efficient user of public resources, delivering a greater network coverage than most other regions of the UK while receiving the lowest funding (£84 per head) of any UK region, just 27 per cent of the average UK public expenditure (£311 per head) on public transport.
Before the pandemic, more and more people were switching to public transport in Northern Ireland. In 2018/19, passenger journeys topped 84.5 million journeys, the highest figure in 20 years. This equates to 5.8 million additional fare paying passenger journeys each year during three consecutive years of growth.
More people are expected to work from home on a longer-term basis going forward, but they may also choose to reduce their reliance on a second car, increasing their dependence on public transport and other sustainable modes for irregular commutes and social and leisure activities. This has the potential to place public transport at the heart of the rebuilding effort.
Translink will continue to work with businesses and stakeholders to progress sustainable transport options and will maintain our existing mechanisms to keep everyone safe, including compulsory face coverings, cashless payments where possible, a ‘no change’ policy, provision of hand sanitisers and protective screens and social distancing, as well as thorough cleaning techniques.
The global climate and air quality enjoyed a short-term benefit from reduced car and air transport during the crisis, which should be maintained wherever possible. It is now universally recognised that we must take action to improve our environment; before Covid-19, the UK became the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050. This commitment recognises the potential for zero carbon public transport to play a crucial role in improving the environment. Translink is fully committed to this, and we are keen to see our streets made more welcoming for sustainable forms of transport, including public transport, walking and cycling. Above all, it’s vital that our urban spaces are made people-centred, with moves to reduce reliance on the private car at the forefront.
In the months ahead, Translink will work to secure the future of public transport in Northern Ireland. Safe, sustainable and efficient bus and rail travel is at the heart of our cities, towns and villages and will continue to play a vital role in keeping everyone safe, building additional support for sustainable transport solutions and a ‘green’ recovery in every part of our society and supporting the whole community in the months ahead as we seek to look beyond Covid-19 and plan a vision for an enhanced network and economy in the coming years.
More details can be found at www.translink.co.uk