Thursday, 16 June 2011

We need REVOLUTION! Well, in Public Transport at least.

No party, not even the Green Party, offer proposals that will adequately change the way public transport is used and operated in this country. I credit the Greens with at least having what I believe is a genuine desire to dramatically reduce the reliance on our private cars for transport. I'm confident that the driving force behind most  parties claims to want to do the same are due to political expediency rather than a belief it's the right thing to do. However, the Greens desire to halt all road construction is just plain wrong. We won't get people on to public transport by bullying them on to it.

The reality is that in order to make the changes needed so that public transport is the first choice of transport for the majority is that it needs money. Obviously it's a fair consideration but in truth, it's misguided. If you're going to provide a state funded or state subsidised service you do so because it's needed, because it's critical to the people and to the continuing prosperity of the country. As such, you don't set out to plan what you can afford, you plan what you need.

Now, you can disagree with me but it's the truth and it was the basis for the first income tax. We needed a professional  Navy and once the King and his Admirals had worked out what was needed to do the job, they raised the revenue through tax. You see; they didn't even consider how much to tax until after they had considered what was needed.

Clearly, I understand that in these times, it's not quite as simple as that. For a start, we're not at threat of invasion if our bus service doesn't improve and should the Queen try and raise taxes, well, it won't be pretty. However, the principle remains and must be applied. Let's work out what we need to do and then, if the money isn't there (which it isn't) we have to work out how to work toward the objective with what we have or raise funds another way. To do so, we need to have the objective in place and that is what is lacking.

One of the biggest challenges that would have to be overcome is that the overwhelming majority of our politicians have no clue just how awful public transport is. In Bangor, we're lucky to have a reasonably reliable train service into Belfast but it is a) too expensive b) too infrequent c) too inflexible. The proof of this is that, despite running almost parallel to the road to Belfast, the road is always, always busy and usually congested. People drive because a) it's cheaper b) they can go when they want c) they can go exactly where they want.

It's always going to be impossible for public transport to drop people exactly where they need to be but right now, once you get to Belfast on the train, the vast majority of passengers then have a good walk or a bus to where they need to go. I'm not sure anyone would really describe Belfast Central as being Central in the true sense of the word, at least not in terms of where the majority of commuters to Belfast wish to end up.

Anyway, this is an example of the problem facing Public Transport. The solution isn't an easy one. In fact, the solution is incredibly elusive. When searching for that solution though, we have to make sure that we're not avoiding it because it's just too expensive or too difficult.

So, what of the revolution? For me, public transport isn't just about the environment but about the economy. The freedom to move (whether it be goods, labour or services) and move fair distance, within your borders is key to economic success. Right now, it is becoming increasingly difficult and it's one of the big problems facing the economy that is frequently overlooked. It will take revolutionary level changes to overcome this obstacle and anything less will be nothing more than a plaster to keep us going.


  1. I wonder when you last used a train on the Bangor Line, "just how awful public transport is". Consider the following;
    - New Class 3000 Trains operating ALL train services on the Bangor Line
    - New Class 4000 (X20) Trains are currently being tested for Passenger Service
    - NI Railways in 2010/11 carried 10.3 million passengers, it is only a few years they struggled to carry just over 6 million
    - I would suggest that you check the frequency of trains on the Bangor Line, I think you might just be wrong on the infrequency
    - There are a considerable number of local political figures who regularly use public transport on a daily basis
    - I also think you over egg the issue slightly. No form of public transport will be 100% satisfactory, even the car. Sitting on the Sydenham Bye Pass every morning, watching all the trains going past on their way to Belfast. Just over 20 minutes from Bangor to Belfast by train (even at peak times). How can the car park which is the Sydenham Bye Pass be a better choice than the train, only a mad person would believe that. Even in the private car you can't really go "when and where you want to" or at least not in any quick or efficient manner or for that matter any cheaper way. All things considered; fuel costs, road tax, parking, wear and tear, insurance, must definitely point to the obvious that public transport is the better option and in particular, the rail service on the Bangor line is the wisest option. In general, rail service (where it is available in NI) is by far and away the best choice
    - Continued investment in Public Transport is essential
    - Translink have announced that they will not be raising fares this year
    - For comparable journey in the UK, NI rail fares are excellent value

  2. Firstly, let me say that my post was not an attack on Translink and certainly not on the service from Bangor to Belfast, though I can see why you made the connection.

    I appreciate that there have been investments in rolling stock and that is fantastic but it doesn't address the main thrust of my post. Public Transport needs to be the first choice of transport for the majority. Right now, it isn't, and despite any efforts by Translink it won't be without truly massive, revolutionary level investment.

    Let me ask this: if offered double it's budget would Translink reject saying it wasn't needed? Do Translink feel that Public Transport in NI meets the needs of the people and achieves it's objectives?

    If the rail service is the 'wisest' option why is it not the most popular? Is it a failure of marketing?

    A final point: There are NOT a considerable number of political figures who use public transport. There are some notable figures, for sure, but to use the word 'considerable' implies that it is a sizeable chunk of our elected reps and that, frankly, is absolute nonsense.

    By the way, I expect we can talk about this next Tuesday evening if you are who I think you are!