Belfast is developing at such a pace that it urgently requires a rapid transit system, Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said today.
He told Business Telegraph that he still had an open mind as to whether such a system should be bus or tram-based.
But the Minister said the situation would become clearer early next year when he receives the results of a feasibility study which is currently under way.
Mr Murphy said he expected to receive the initial findings before Christmas, with the main report following in the New Year.
He said: "This will present us with options for moving the process forward and then next year my committee and I will undertake a visit to see various schemes in operation.
"There are arguments for both a guided busway and a tram system such as LUAS in Dublin but we will need to have a clearer picture of what the options are and what they would cost.
"But I do think that a city of Belfast's size that is developing economically in the way that Belfast is needs a rapid transit system."
At Mr Murphy's behest, the scope of ongoing studies into a Belfast rapid transit project was extended in July.
Originally, two studies were commissioned - one looking at EWAY from Dundonald and the second examining the CITI link from Holywood Exchange via George Best Belfast City Airport and Titanic Quarter.
The additional studies are testing the feasibility of two new routes, one to Queen's University and the second to the Royal Victoria Hospital and on into west Belfast.
Mr Murphy said that a system which criss-crossed the city centre would create the possibility of a rapid transit network rather than single, unconnected routes.
He said it was now accepted that society could not "build its way" out of traffic congestion, although he insisted that the completion by late 2009 of the £104m Westlink upgrade would make a "substantial difference" to traffic flows in Belfast city centre.
The Minister said that the completion of Westlink would also enable more thought to be given to an extension of bus lane provision on arterial routes.
He said: " Traffic congestion costs, not just in terms of the frustration caused to motorists who are delayed but also in terms of the economy.
" Time lost means additional costs for business."
Mr Murphy said the deployment of NCP traffic attendants had cut by 20% the numbers of vehicles parked illegally.
"People are always frustrated when they get a ticket and there are always examples of people who got booked when they had parked just for an extra minute.
"But our objective is to help traffic flow and ease congestion."
Mr Murphy said that while the Executive was empowered to explore the possibility of road tolling, it was not an option that had been discussed in detail.
"While there are powers, I think road-tolling only works in a situation in which motorists have a choice between using a new road or sticking to the old route," he said.