The traffic chaos that hit Belfast this week has delayed customers and clogged up orders, independent retailers in the city have said.
Staff at Pronuptia bridal store, questioned the rationale behind the implementation of the controversial Belfast On The Move plan.
They say it has left their customers late and out of pocket for appointments at the shop.
Snaking traffic jams have also delayed orders destined for long-established, family-run sports store SS Moore — days before a series of rugby games.
The reason for the gridlock is Belfast On The Move which has introduced additional bus lanes in a bid to boost public transport.
There was little harmony on city centre roads this week, as motorists tried to navigate new bus lanes amid reduced road space, a revamped layout and heavy downpours.
There was widespread congestion with drivers reporting hugely increased journey times and gridlock across the city.
Many also said there were few buses using the new dedicated bus lanes which are being blamed for much of the congestion.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) has defended the new traffic system, claiming a number of factors such as weather and accidents have been contributing to the heavy traffic as drivers get used to the alterations.
Concern about the plan's impact is now mounting among independent traders looking into the mouth of the festive season.
Jackie Fugard (44), owner of Pronuptia bridal store, said: “We had a bride this morning who was meant to come in for an appointment at 11am.
“A five-minute journey took her 20 minutes in a taxi because they were stuck in traffic — and that cost her £11, instead of the usual £4. The biggest problem for us has been our customers being late for appointments because they are having to sit in traffic.
“There are other bridal shops, and some people are going to say, ‘I'm just going to go somewhere else' if these problems continue around here. That's our concern.”
It's a similar story for David Hislop, manager SS Moore sports store, which has been established in Belfast for more than 50 years.
He believes the plans were ill-timed and should not have been introduced when conditions are tougher than ever for independent retailers.
He said: “A number of our customers are still waiting for Ulster jerseys because the traffic problems have effected our deliveries. One delivery has still not arrived.
“It's frustrating for the customers and us.”
The DRD, which is behind the plans, said a bedding-in period means it “is likely to be some time before the full benefits” of Belfast On The Move are realised.
A spokeswoman said: “Traffic flows are continuing to be monitored both on the ground and by CCTV to minimise delay to all road users (and) to ensure that bus operations and traffic movements operate to their optimum.”
Pointing to additional factors, she added: “The weather was particularly bad on Monday and Tuesday of this week, forcing traffic to slow down due to surface water on some roads, combined with a couple of incidents in the city — one being where an ambulance had to pull up on Oxford Street for approximately 20 minutes to deal with an emergency. There was also a lane closure on the A55.”
‘Phantom’ roadworks claimed by DRD, then vanish
By Anna Maguire
A mystery set of roadworks, which snarled up one of Belfast’s busiest routes this week, is part of the controversial ‘Belfast On The Move’ plan, officials from the Roads Service have admitted.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) confirmed the purpose of a series of barriers and cones on College Square, nearly 24 hours after the Belfast Telegraph queried why they were there.
Traffic which would usually be split between two lanes passing Belfast’s Millfield campus was bottlenecked into a single lane earlier this week.
Frustrated motorists were also prevented from using an off-slip leading to Castle Street.
On Wednesday evening the DRD said it was unable to find out who was carrying out the works.
But it later emerged the works are part of the department’s own scheme, Belfast On The Move.
The initiative came in for bitter criticism for falling short of its aim to improve the city’s transport while angering motorists who were stuck in gridlock over three days this week.
Yesterday evening, a spokeswoman for the DRD said: “The
roadworks referred to are on College Avenue/College Square East and are part of the Belfast On The Move project.
“This element of the Belfast on the Move proposals will introduce a south-bound bus lane on College Avenue/College Square East from Divis Street/Castle Street to Wellington Place.”
But the mystery took another twist on Wednesday evening when the line roadworks disappeared.
Responding, a DRD spokeswoman said: “These works have been temporarily suspended and the traffic cones removed. The work will recommence as soon as possible.
“Details of the Belfast On The Move proposals and the current position regarding the ongoing works are available through the Belfast on the Move website at www.drdni.gov.uk/index/belfastonthemove.htm.”
Service is not fit for purpose, says MLA
By Chris Kilpatrick
Northern Ireland’s public transport system has been labelled “not fit for purpose”.
East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat, who is also a member of the Committee of the Department for Regional Development, said public transport infrastructure must be built upon if the general public are expected to leave their cars at home and use trains and buses.
He made his comments on the back of the continuing debate over the ‘Belfast On The Move’ strategy.
“Public transport services are not fit for purpose,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“If public transport is attractive, people will move from their cars. But at the moment it's patchy and expensive.
“There's a lot of work to be done.
“The service in rural areas in particular is abysmal and doesn’t connect with the mainstream services.
“I think there need to be greater opportunities for the private sector to bid for parts of the service currently being run by Translink.
“It’s not practical for some people to leave their cars at home as it stands.
“The park and ride schemes are good but if you are commuting to Belfast every day it works out quite expensive and it’s questionable whether you save money.
“Whatever rail infrastructure we have left, certainly there can be considerable enticements there.
“I think no commuter would have trouble choosing public transport if there was a convenient way of getting there.”