Translink’s Business Development Manager is sitting on the Executive Council of the business body calling for Belfast bus lanes to be scrapped, Bikefast can exclusively reveal.
Yesterday Bikefast broke the story that the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce (BCTC) has called for an experimental removal of most bus lanes in Belfast. This would leave the majority of arterial routes in the city with no bus priority measures. Only three routes which are due to carry Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) from 2018 should retain bus lanes, according to BCTC’s proposal.
Translink is the operational brand name of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, a public corporation which operates public transport in the province. Translink’s services include Metro and Ulsterbus, which both rely on bus lanes for journey reliability and speed when avoiding rush hour congestion through Belfast.
During the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Infrastructure session when the bus lane proposal was raised, BCTC President Gordon McElroy answered a question from Kellie Armstrong MLA on any discussions BCTC had had with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) on public transport improvements:
“We have not had any direct contact with the Department. This is our opportunity to have contact with the Department. We understand that you are the Committee, and we are trying to make our representations to the Department, I suppose, through you.
“We have regular and frequent communication with public transport by working closely with Translink. Norman Maynes, who is a senior executive in Translink, is a former president of the chamber, so we work hand in glove.”
According to the BCTC website, Norman Maynes was elected to the Executive Council of the Chamber in summer 2016. He is recorded as representing “Translink” on the list of Executive Council members. Although no clarification on Mr Mayne’s job role was offered by Translink, a recent press release describes him as the “Head of Business Development”.
A Translink statement to Bikefast in September 2016 about the issues of bus lanes raised in the BCTC “Belfast Manifesto” clarified the relationship between Translink and BCTC:
“Translink is a member of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and work closely with them as a key stakeholder.
“Bus lanes play an important role in the overall success of our transport network in terms of making bus travel more attractive and making the best use of the road space available.
“We would not advocate the removal of bus lanes in Belfast.”
Translink was awarded a public service contract in October 2015 to be the main provider of public transport services with exclusive rights to operate the timetabled network in Northern Ireland for five years.
Along with fares collected from passengers, Translink receives direct funding from the Department for Infrastructure, expected to be £60.8m in 2015/16.
Translink has declined to comment on the annual membership fee it pays to BCTC.
The “Lobbying” prospectus on the BCTC website raises key questions about the wisdom of Translink’s membership and how its views (and by extension those of bus passengers) are being represented by BCTC:
“Lobbying and representation are very important aspects of BCTC membership. We lobby locally, regionally and nationally with Government and other authorities on issues that are of concern to our members.
“Members’ views are actively sought and expressed, and we ensure that your opinions and demands are recognised.”
Translink’s views on bus priority are easily found in its current Corporate Plan and appear misaligned with those being expressed through its membership of BCTC:
“Improvements in bus priority in Belfast city centre have been beneficial for Metro services with early evidence of operational efficiency improving and travel behaviour switching from private car use in the city centre to passenger transport, cycling and walking or to routes bypassing the city centre.
“Further measures are necessary, particularly outside the city centre, to continue to deliver punctual and fast services for customers. While operational improvement has been evident in the city centre, congestion and low average speeds continue to be an issue throughout the city, impacting punctuality, performance and reliability.
“We will continue to work in partnership with (led by) Transport NI to implement an ongoing programme of bus priority in greater Belfast to address the issues of reducing bus speeds and congestion.”
Belgian firm Van Hool to supply vehicles for Belfast Rapid Transit system. 'Tram-like buses' they'll look like this pic.twitter.com/FZzm83vffm
— JPCampbellBiz (@JP_Biz) November 26, 2015
Some of the objectives laid out in Translink’s Annual Report and Accounts 2015/16 appear to be incompatible with the removal of the majority of bus lanes in Belfast:
“Maintaining High Punctuality and Reliability Standards
We have set challenging goals to ensure that more than 95% of our services are on time and more than 99.5% of services operate reliably.
“Journey Time and other External Factors
To deliver excellent punctuality and reliability requires a partnership approach with all our stakeholders to address external factors which can impact on our services such as congestion, traffic accidents, road works and track trespass.
“Congestion is Costing our Economy
Translink will work with all key stakeholders to tackle this issue and support the development of a Transport Strategy for our cities and towns”
Bikefast asked a series of questions of Translink to clarify its position with regard to the Chamber’s recently expressed views on bus lanes:
- How much does Translink pay to BCTC as an annual membership fee?
- Was Mr Maynes directly involved in the creation of the Belfast Manifesto launched earlier this year and did he ‘sign off’ on this report in his position on the Executive Council?
- Did Mr Maynes have sight of / input into the briefing given by BCTC to the Infrastructure Committee last week?
- How has Mr Maynes expressed Translink’s position on the retention of bus lanes in Belfast through BCTC?
- Will Translink be considering its membership of BCTC in light of the comments made at the Infrastructure Committee last week and the potential for a perception of a conflict of interest to develop with a Translink representative on the Executive Council of a body actively advocating for the removal of bus lanes in Belfast?
In response, a Translink spokesperson said:
“Bus priority, or better phrased bus passengers’ priority, makes bus travel more attractive. This is clearly demonstrated by the strong growth of over 15% in Metro passengers over the last decade with over 500k journeys every week.
“As well as supporting the growth of public transport and active travel, a key outcome of the draft Programme for Government, there are also many other societal benefits such as enabling a strong economy, helping to reduce congestion and keeping Belfast moving, improving our local environment by improving air quality for people who work, visit, study and live in the city.
“Translink continues to work with all stakeholders, including Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce on bus and wider transport infrastructure.
“The Belfast Manifesto provides a balanced approach, which is supportive of the development of public transport, including the Belfast Hub and BRT while also recognising the place of the private car. Translink had an active role into the input of the manifesto, which takes on the many views of stakeholders and aims to make Belfast into the most vibrant, thriving city possible”.
Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce were approached for comment and clarification on several points but regrettably had not responded by the time of publication.
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