17/09/2002

Plans for major transport shake-up announced

The Regional Development Minister has announced a major public consultation on proposals for reform of the planning, delivery and future governance of public transport in Northern Ireland.

Speaking in the Assembly, as he published his consultation paper entitled 'A New Start for Public Transport in Northern Ireland', Peter Robinson outlined proposals for an independent body to regulate public transport and the creation of a new publicly owned company called Transport Northern Ireland to run bus and rail services.

Mr Robinson said: “My proposals envisage the amalgamation of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company and Translink into a new company, with DRD as its shareholder, but more commercially focused on the development of public transport services, as envisaged in the Regional Transportation Strategy.

“I want to see a new start for public transport in Northern Ireland and I regard these proposals as important stepping stones in a planning process that will lead to a public transport system fit for the years ahead."

Welcoming the announcement, Dr Joan Smyth, Chairman of Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, parent body of Translink, said: “In order to achieve the vision for public transport set out in the Regional Transportation Strategy, we accept the need to open discussions on alternative proposals for the regulation and delivery of services, including the ability to access private sector funding."

However, Mr Robinson said the scale of investment required for public transport was outlined in the Regional Transportation Strategy, agreed by the assembly in July, but was unlikely to be met by public expenditure alone. Inevitably, he said, opportunities for exposing public transport to the market would need to be explored.

He continued: “The reforms could see the injection of private sector finance into the new company or the opening up of the public transport market to more competition.

“However, I am not advocating unfettered deregulation. I am proposing the progressive injection of private sector finance and expertise into the public transport market but only in so far as it makes sound commercial sense and is acceptable to the wider community."

Mr Robinson said that the creation of a regulatory body would be another step towards bringing a great deal more rationality and objectivity to the planning and delivery of public transport.

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