|Headquarters||Milewater Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland|
|Service area||Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry|
|Service type||Bus service, Coach|
Ulsterbus is a public transport operator in Northern Ireland and operates bus services outside Belfast. It is part of Translink, the brand name for the subsidiary operating companies of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, which also includes Northern Ireland Railways and Metro Belfast.
Ulsterbus was founded in 1967 with the creation of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, replacing the former Ulster Transport Authority. The founding of Ulsterbus coincided with the beginnings of The Troubles, a conflict which intensified throughout the 1970s and 1980s and often saw Ulsterbus buses and employees caught in the crossfire. Drivers would often face hijackings, assaults and robberies while operating Ulsterbus services, their buses being turned into burning barricades or occasionally being bombed. Four Ulsterbus employees were killed in the 1972 Bloody Friday bombings when an IRA bomb exploded at the Oxford Street bus station. In total, 17 employees from both Ulsterbus and Citybus were killed during The Troubles, with 1,484 buses in total being maliciously destroyed from 1964 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Werner Heubeck was the first managing director of both Ulsterbus and Citybus, managing both companies throughout The Troubles from his appointment in 1965 until his retirement in 1988. A former Luftwaffe conscript, Heubeck became known for carrying bombs off buses and for making Northern Ireland's buses profitable and running to schedule despite the security situation, and received both an OBE in 1977 and a CBE on his retirement in 1988.
The Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company was rebranded to Translink in 1996. Ulsterbus and Citybus, as well as Northern Ireland's rail services, were integrated into Translink and were subsequently rebanded. Translink have built and refurbished a number of bus stations served by Ulsterbus and have invested in a fully low-floor bus fleet, as well as introducing brands such as the Foyle Metro.
Ulsterbus is responsible for most of the province-wide bus services in Northern Ireland. It operates twenty-two bus stations, several of which, such as those at Belfast Europa and Bangor, form integrated transport interchanges with Northern Ireland Railways stations) and 1,100 buses. Ulsterbus, as part of Translink, is charged with transporting over 55,000 children per day to school. Every July and August, around 250 vehicles are usually de-taxed. This is because not as many are needed for service due to schools finishing for summer holidays.
Goldline is the name given to the inter-city express bus services operated by Ulsterbus. Originally launched as the 'Northern Ireland Express' in the 1970s, these services were rebranded to 'Goldline' in 1990, with the Belfast-Derry express service relaunched as the 'Maiden City Flyer' with eight new coaches in 1991. This service has seen major expansion over the years: Belfast-Derry went from a thrice daily service in 1990 to half-hourly frequency, and many services have been expanded and introduced. Goldline services are operated from Belfast to major destinations in Northern Ireland, plus the Goldline Express Services X1/X2 (previously Service 200) to Dublin (via Dublin Airport). This service was worked jointly with Bus Éireann service X1 (previously Service 001) until December 2020, where the service changed to be worked 100% by Translink.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (October 2021)
For many years, Derry's internal bus network was operated as Ulsterbus's Derry City Services. It was relaunched as Ulsterbus Foyle on 4 September 2006 following a review and expansion of the city's bus routes and replacement of many of the city’s older buses.
In the same way that Translink Metro was used to modernise routes in Belfast, the Ulsterbus Foyle network now offers 13 set routes across and into the popular suburban areas of the city. It was hoped that the new service would make transportation in Northern Ireland's second city easier and would encourage people to make use of Derry's public transport system; in the meantime, regional services between Derry and other towns and villages were rebranded as Londonderry County services, sharing a district manager with Ulsterbus Foyle. All routes have a return journey, except FY8, which changes to FY9 for its return journey. Regional, cross border and national services depart from Foyle Street Bus Depot. Airport link services are operated by private company "Airporter", which offer links from its base in the Culmore Road to Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport.
Ulsterbus Foyle was rebranded as Foyle Metro in September 2017, with the buses branded in a deep red livery.
Ulsterbus used to operate the "University Link" service 163a between the two main campuses of Northern Ireland's largest universities, Queen's University Belfast, and Ulster University at the Jordanstown campus, until January 2022. This service is now operated by Translink Metro (Belfast) as service number U2.
Ulsterbus previously operated a holiday coaching arm named 'Ulsterbus Tours', operating "day tours" to other parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and across the Irish Sea to Great Britain, mainly for shopping and visits to tourist attractions. Coaches could also be hired for sporting events such as Old Firm derbies and racing events such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Ulsterbus Tours was closed in September 2020 due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Translink.
The Ulsterbus Urby service is an upgraded bus service offering USB charging, faster journeys, WiFi and leather seating, initially launched with 28 new Wright double decker buses in June 2018 to operate in Ballyclare, Bangor, Newtownards and Dromore. In September 2019, routes serving Ballygowan, Comber and Moneyreagh were upgraded to Urby routes with an investment of seven new buses.
In December 2015, a single-decker bus crashed into Strangford Lough after colliding with a wall on the Portaferry Road near Newtownards. No passengers were on board at the time and the driver of the bus sustained only minor injuries. The bus was recovered and put back onto land a few hours later.
Two Ulsterbus Goldline coaches have suffered engine fires while in service; a coach bound for Belfast caught fire outside of Lurgan, County Armagh in November 2016, while another caught fire on the M2 in County Antrim in July 2021, which the company states was caused by "accidental ignition".
An Urby bus was hijacked and set alight by "masked men" on the morning of 1 November 2021 in Newtownards. The over £100,000 bus had recently entered service in the Bowtown estate when hijackers held the driver at gunpoint and "muttered something about the (Northern Ireland) protocol" before setting the bus alight. No passengers were on board at the time, but the bus was totally destroyed and the driver left "badly shaken". The attack was widely condemned by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and all buses to the town were briefly suspended.
Prior to the advent of low-floor buses, the Ulsterbus fleet mainly consisted of Alexander-bodied Bristol REs, Leyland Leopards, Leyland Tigers and Volvo B10Ms. Many of these would be hijacked and maliciously destroyed throughout The Troubles, and as such, second-hand Bristol, Leyland and AEC buses were regularly purchased from British operators.
The last Leyland Tiger of a fleet of over 600 was handed over to the company in September 1993, with Ulsterbus moving over to the Volvo B10M following the closure of Leyland Bus. Most high-floor Ulsterbus buses were withdrawn by the mid-2000s; the last Leyland Leopards were finally withdrawn in 2006, with 681 being built for Ulsterbus and 228 of these being maliciously destroyed.
Following an order for 40 Leyland Atlanteans in 1971, no further double decker buses were ordered, as they were seen as expensive to run and not offering good value for money at the time. In 2001, however, double decker buses were reintroduced to Northern Ireland through the purchase of 20 low-floor Volvo B7TLs with Alexander ALX400 bodywork for both Ulsterbus and Citybus.
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