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A LeasCheann Comhairle. The current bus-replacement policy is aimed at delivering the target age limits for Translink’s bus fleet as set out in the regional transportation strategy. The targets are that the average vehicle age should be no more than eight years, with no bus being more than 18 years old, and no coach being more than 12 years old. The overall policy objective is to achieve a modern, comfortable and reliable bus fleet that encourages people to use public transport for their journeys instead of private cars.
We have had some success in stopping the long-term downward trend in the number of people who travel by bus. I am pleased to report that the number of bus passengers in Belfast has increased by almost 14% over the past two years.
A LeasCheann Comhairle. Translink expects to buy 240 replacement buses during 2007-08 and 2008-09; 69 replacement buses in 2009-10; and 90 replacements buses in 2010-11. The total cost of those is estimated at almost £62 million. The 2007 draft Budget will allow the bus-replacement programme to be rolled out as planned.
That type of fuel has been used in some of the Department for Regional Development’s vehicles. We are investigating the matter and will continue to investigate it.
The Programme for Government sets out the Executive’s objective of reducing our carbon footprint, and we want to investigate each and every opportunity to do that. We will therefore continue to investigate the uses of such fuel in Translink fleets as well.
Our intention is to bring all school bus fleets up to a high standard, but the necessary changes cannot be introduced overnight. There has been substantial investment in the bus fleet, which brought a large number of buses up to the required standard. As I said in response to an earlier question, that investment will continue. A substantial investment of, I think, £62 million has been allocated in the draft Budget, so there will continue to be investment in procurement to replace the older buses in the Translink fleet. That will bring all buses up to the standard to which the Member referred.
However, I presume that the Member will understand that, since the first bus fleets were introduced only this year, the entire fleet of Translink buses cannot be brought up to the required standard overnight. A substantial capital investment is required and will have to be budgeted for over several years. If this year’s draft Budget is approved, there will, fortunately, be a substantial improvement in the coming years.