Ballyclare transplant patient slams bus service cuts

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A transplant patient has criticised proposed DRD transport cuts, which she says would prevent her from attending hospital appointments.

Ballyclare woman Michelle Steele spoke out after it was revealed that the DRD’s proposed budget cuts could result in the withdrawal of town bus services in Ballyclare and Newtownabbey.

She commented: “I use the 168 and 154 buses to go and come from Antrim area hospital for transplant outpatient appointments. My only way of getting there is by these buses.

“I am also worried that all of the Ballyclare 153 buses will be off the roads, as a lot of Ballyclare people use these. Not only could we be losing a vital part of our community, but bus drivers could be out of a job and there would be extra congestion on our roads with getting kids to school.”

The DRD has been ordered to make savings of £65 million following the recent Stormont budget. The department’s draft budget paper shows that the city of Armagh and thirteen towns could have their town bus services withdrawn.

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy commented: “DRD is facing cuts of around £65million to its budget for 2015/16 and as a result there could be reductions of some £15 million in the total departmental funding to Translink.

“A draft budget consultation document for 2015/16 is currently out for public consultation. The impacts of the reduction on my budget have not been agreed at this stage however the financial constraints are so great that there will certainly be very difficult decisions ahead.”

Other proposed cuts involve a reduction in management, administrative and clerical staff. A total of 160 staff could lose their jobs, reducing the DRD’s paybill by £5.7 million. Fare increases and bus station closures are also being considered.

The Unite union is launching a “Hands Off Public Transport” campaign to oppose the proposals. Unite’s Davy McMurray said the cuts would have “a hugely adverse impact on the most vulnerable sections of our society.” He described the cuts as “an attack” on older people, the disabled, families with children and those who cannot afford a car.

The draft budget is available at www.drdni.gov.uk. To respond to the consultation, email budgetconsultation@drdni.gov.uk or write to: Stewart Barnes, Budget Consultation, Financial Planning and Management Branch, Department for Regional Development, Room 4-34, Clarence Court, 10-18 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8GB. The closing date is December 29.