Tuesday 21 May 2019

Passengers cannot keep bailing out our transport companies


The Luas
The Luas
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Cutting funding to our public transport companies is nothing new. Everyone appreciates that when times are tight, everything is up for grabs, but the Government must now realise that passengers cannot afford to make up the lack of public funding through higher charges.

Every year the National Transport Authority (NTA) decides if fares should rise or fall for the following year.

It has an unenviable job. It must ensure that service levels are kept high, despite falls in state funding. The companies have already cut costs, and if a shortfall exists it must be made up by the travelling public.

There's more than 10,000 fares across the network, and the NTA is gradually working its way through this outdated structure and streamlining fares. For some, including this commuter, their annual ticket will fall in price next year. But for most, the cost of their daily journey will rise.

Public transport passengers are tired and jaded of always being asked to put their hands in their pockets. Unless Government steps in and provides incentives to make the switch from the car, nothing will change.

It's becoming increasingly tiresome to hear successive ministers say that the network still doesn't offer a viable alternative to the private car. At a time when our national road network is under pressure due to higher traffic volumes, and we face a real challenge to reduce our emissions from transport to help prevent dangerous climate change, it seems a profound lack of foresight not to have strong transport policies in this regard.

There's no doubt that the network has been utterly transformed in recent years. There are new train lines and a Luas network in the capital; the age of the fleet has fallen thanks to capital investment and passengers now have Real Time Passenger Information and a range of apps to help plan their journeys.

In short, it's a system that people can rely on, albeit one where further improvements are needed.

The only thing that will save these companies is higher passenger numbers. The NTA is in a difficult position. Its job is to ensure that the companies provide as high a level of service as possible within funding limits. It has to balance the need to keep the companies operational while not discouraging people from the bus, tram and train.

It's not being helped by a lack of money coming from Government. Some 10pc of bus routes are going to the market to grow the role of the private sector.

One would have to question if the coalition is planning to increase this number, and remove the need for a 'public' transport system at all.

Irish Independent

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