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Posted 28 July 2021

#Get on Board NI?

RCN Blog

Policy Officer Aidan Campbell reflects on his recent public transport experiences in response to Translink’s Get on Board NI campaign which is encouraging more people to use public transport.

I live in a place called Derrytresk, a rural townland about 3.5 miles outside Coalisland in County Tyrone.  Where I live is also only about 1.5 miles away from the Tamnamore Roundabout Park and Ride so, although my home is rural, it can’t be considered remote.  Like most rural households we rely on our car for the almost all journeys.  A few weeks ago, due to a car breakdown I had to use the bus for a few days.  Working from home isn’t an option as the broadband speed is so poor but that’s another story.

On the first day the clutch went, I had the kids in the car and managed to drop them to school before limping back home.  The time was now 8.20am.  I looked at the Translink website and saw the next bus serving Cookstown from Tamnamore Park and Ride was departing at 9.40 and would have me in Cookstown at 10.25.  Not ideal.  My next best option was a bus departing from Coalisland at 9.23 arriving in Cookstown for 9.53 which was better.  Next step was getting to the bus stop.  A phone call to a friend confirmed I could drop my bike at her house for the day.  A quick cycle to Coalisland up the Canal towpath and I caught the 9.23 bus and arrived in the office before 10am.

On the second day I was headed to a conference in central Belfast starting at 10am.  That was an easier journey with a planned drop off at the Park & Ride by my wife on her way to work.  I then caught one of the frequent morning buses to Belfast that serve the Park and Ride.  A quick trip down the M1 had me in Glengall St Bus Station at 9.30am and on time for the conference I was attending.

These two different journeys, one undertaken at the last minute and one planned in advance demonstrate some of the challenges for rural citizens who need to use public transport.  The car breakdown at 8am meant that I had missed the bus from Coalisland that arrives in Cookstown before 9am.  I also had to cycle to Coalisland and find somewhere to store my bike for the return journey that evening.  The pre-planned journey to Belfast using the Park and Ride was convenient and was a better option than driving.  I was able to respond to emails on the bus and had none of the usual hassle or expense of car parking in the city centre.

The hub and spoke model which connects arterial routes to Belfast has the potential to move more people from cars onto public transport.  My local Park & Ride opened in 2015 and is well used by people using public transport and for car-sharing.  This reduces vehicles on the road easing congestion, reducing emissions and travel times.  The only downside was the £17 return bus fare.  Park & Ride facilities are expensive to develop and need to be of a certain scale on high demand routes to be viable.  Journeys on low demand routes are more problematic and less economically viable to provide.  For many people their journeys are not linear and include drop offs to childcare or schools before work.  In my case, If I had a disability or was unable to cycle I would probably have had no option except to take a taxi.

Translink’s Get on board campaign is primarily focused on encouraging public transport use particularly in Greater Belfast to reduce congestion.  Public transport, as its currently configured, is not a realistic option for most rural journeys.