Public transport has a key role to play in the recovery and in reconnecting people to employment, education and leisure opportunities.
It is clear that our society has been significantly impacted by Covid-19, with particular pressure on the economy. As Northern Ireland begins to recover from the impact of the pandemic, we now need to give consideration to how we can safely rebuild our economy and restore vitality to our business and retail centres.
Translink is a key stakeholder in Northern Ireland’s economic life and we will continue to fulfil this role as we look to revitalise the local economy. From helping to connect communities to adding a sense of vitality to urban centres, public transport has a major role to play as Northern Ireland continues to emerge from the present crisis. Bus and rail services are already helping to reconnect communities as people begin to return to the workplace and economic activity increases. We are glad to see passenger numbers increase across our services as more people venture back to public transport in the knowledge that they can travel safely and securely.
Many key workers relied on public transport to get to where they needed to be at the peak of the pandemic, with public transport providing a lifeline of support; we are proud to have been there for the people of Northern Ireland at a time of crisis, not only keeping our community moving but by offering free travel to NHS and carer staff, organising food parcels and supplies for care facilities and utilising services to ensure the transportation of essential supplies.
The role of public transport in growing our economy in the period ahead is substantial. Research conducted last year by Grant Thornton on the economic impact of public transport in Northern Ireland revealed that a majority of respondents identified public transport as an important means of accessing employment and social opportunities, and in a region where over 20 per cent of households have no access to a car, sustainable public transport is an essential piece of the jigsaw as the recovery gets underway.
The impact of Covid-19 will change people’s travelling habits in the short term and maybe even in the longer term, if working from home for at least part of the time becomes mainstream. As well as increased off-peak travel, there is a greater chance of people downsizing their private car needs and embracing more sustainable forms of transport, including public transport, walking and cycling, for journeys to and from work and for leisure travel.
This will be instrumental in helping to build the ‘green recovery’ which our society needs. Translink will also continue to invest in new ticketing technologies, given the worldwide shift to contactless and cash-free options which will give the public more flexibility and reassurance.
Public transport is necessary to reduce congestion, protect our environment and promote active travel, and we’re working to prioritise development of low or zero emission vehicles, such as hydrogen and electric buses and trains, as well as working to facilitate improved pedestrian and cycle access to services. Our new infrastructural investments, such as the North-West Transport Hub, the Belfast Transport Hub and the planned Glider phase 2 in north and south Belfast, will also help make sustainable transport even more attractive in the years ahead.
We have a range of ambitious plans to grow and develop public transport and these are only enhanced as we enter a unique opportunity to build a healthier, more sustainable and prosperous society, with bus and rail travel, coupled with other sustainable modes helping to power a change in habits for the long-term.
It is critical that we have a secure, fully-funded public transport network on a firm footing that is capable of progressing ongoing change in passenger habits in the years ahead. While support from government has been very welcome as a result of the Covid-19 challenge, public transport needs a sustained level of investment to ensure that bus and rail travel, walking and cycling become part of everyone’s normal way of life, both for work and leisure.
Translink’s role in helping Northern Ireland recover from this unprecedented period, in economic, environmental and social terms, is right at the forefront of our plans and we are ready and willing to do everything we can, working with a broad range of stakeholders, to progress safe and sustainable travel solutions to put our community back on track.
More details can be found at www.translink.co.uk