Belfast Rapid Transit System: Faster buses in Belfast... and a train to the airport
Super-routes to speed up journey times across city
It's been hovering in the background for years – but work has finally started on the Belfast Rapid Transit System.
It's the beginning of a process that will see three routes created in Belfast dedicated to carrying 'bendy buses' into the city centre that will accommodate up to 100 passengers each.
Work has already started on building a new 520-space park and ride facility at Dunlady Road in Dundonald – the end of the east Belfast spur. Construction work on the routes in east and west Belfast is expected to start next month.
Initially three BRT routes are planned to link Dundonald in east Belfast, the proposed Colin town centre in west Belfast, and the Titanic Quarter via the city centre. Buses will run into the city centre from each of the spurs, culminating in a circular city centre route with five halts.
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy told the Belfast Telegraph that work on the Upper Newtownards Road would start in June, on the Falls Road in August and on the Stewartstown Road in October.
Meanwhile, he is also committing £20 million so that procurement of 40 rapid transit vehicles can begin. It will take approximately three years to deliver this fleet.
"The BRT system will incorporate high-quality halts enabling easy access to vehicles, real-time information systems for easier journey planning and off-vehicle ticketing to speed up the boarding process," Mr Kennedy said.
The rapid transit system is expected to start operating in the autumn of 2017. It will use articulated buses with three double doors, running on hybrid diesel electric technology. No money will be exchanged with the driver, as tickets will be bought either at on-street machines or as smartcards.
It is proposed that the upgraded lanes will operate as priority bus lanes from 7am to 7pm, with only cyclists, taxis and emergency vehicles allowed into them at these times.
Project manager Ciaran de Burca said DRD will be working closely with the PSNI to make sure that enforcement is strict.
"These buses will have up to 100 people on them – one car just stopping and blocking all these people getting into work is not acceptable any more," he warned.
The routes are to be resurfaced and footpaths may have to be narrowed to accommodate the network, down to a minimum width of 2.5 metres.
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said it was keen to work with Translink and DRD to ensure that disruption caused by the construction was kept to a minimum.
Roads enthusiast Wesley Johnston says the system will create almost continuous bus lanes from Dundonald and the Stewartstown Road into the city centre. It will inevitably led to disruption when the buses start operating, but is designed to tackle Belfast's congestion problems by getting more people into the same road space, he said.
"The key to getting people to use it is to make it much faster than using a car, and this means a dedicated lane free of obstructions that will allow rapid transport vehicles to speed into the city centre," he said. "This will mean squeezing the two lanes on the Upper Newtownards Road into one, which will inevitably lead to increased congestion initially.
"If sufficient numbers of people make the switch to Rapid Transit then the congestion ought to reduce again over time, in all likelihood returning to around what it is at the minute. The difference will be that, in total, more people will be using the road than were before and those who are using Rapid Transit will probably be making the journey more quickly."
Cycling blogger Jonathan Hobbs said: "Forty-four per cent of Belfast households have no access to a car, so it's great to see the Executive investing in high quality public transport, alongside the intention to improve conditions for cycling and walking."
Q&A: Where the new bus lanes will operate, and those entitled to use them
Q So, what exactly is a Rapid Transit System and what difference will it make?
A The Rapid Transit System is a modern bus system that will bring buses along priority routes from park and ride facilities on the edge of the city into Belfast city centre.
Q What kind of buses will be travelling on these new routes?
A The system will use a fleet of 40 articulated buses, each with three double-doors and using hybrid diesel electric technology. The system will incorporate high quality halts allowing easy access to vehicles, real-time information systems and off-vehicle ticketing to speed up the journey. Tickets for the buses can be bought from street machines, or smart cards can be used.
Q Where exactly are the routes?
A The east Belfast spur will run from the park and ride at Dunlady Road in Dundonald, down the Upper Newtownards Road and Albertbridge Road, along East Bridge Street and along Cromac Street. The west Belfast route runs from a park and ride facility at Colin town centre down the Stewartstown Road, Andersonstown Road and Falls Road and into the city centre via Divis Street and College Avenue. The Titanic Quarter route starts at the Science Park, past Titanic Belfast, across Queen’s Bridge and into Oxford Street. All three routes will include a circular city centre route with halts at the Markets, the City Hall, Fountain Street, Victoria Square and Custom House Square.
Q What kind of roadworks are being done along the routes?
A Work is starting next month — this will include relocating street furniture, resurfacing work on the roads and widening the roads to accommodate the priority bus lanes. In certain places, this will mean narrowing the footpaths to a minimum of 2.5 metres. The number of bus stops will also be reduced to one every 400 metres.
Q Who will be allowed to use the priority lanes?
A Between 7am and 7pm, the bus lanes can only be used by buses, cyclists, taxis and emergency vehicles