New measures introduced to catch more cars in Belfast bus lanes
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has announced a number of new measures to catch more people using Belfast's bus lanes illegally.
The new measures will include clamping and removing those who park in the bus lane during their times of operation.
And the mobile enforcement cars - which traverse the city throughout the day to monitor the lanes - will be allowed to park on pavements, where it is safe to do so.
Bus lanes were introduced in 2012 as part of the Belfast on the Move traffic plan, to help get people around the city more quickly.
There are more than 60 bus lanes across the city.
The Sinn Fein minister said measures will help traffic flows and improve reliability and journey times for public transport as well as reducing overall congestion.
He added: "Bus lanes play a vital role in creating a modern and effective transport network and contribute to a reduction in congestion and environmental pollution.
“Allowing the mobile cctv vehicle to park safely on footpaths where enforcement is currently not possible will increase enforcement coverage and will help to reduce the number of vehicles continuing to drive illegally in bus lanes.”
The car will be allowed to park on pavements from January while vehicle removal and clamping enforcement will begin later in the year.
The Minster said: “It is of great concern that vehicles continue to park in bus lanes and urban clearway routes during operational hours causing significant delays and congestion for commuters on their journeys to and from work.
“All it takes is one inconsiderate driver to leave their vehicle parked illegally in a bus lane or on a clearway for a short period of time causing inconvenience to countless others. These illegally parked vehicles can cause delays and congestion for several hours not only in the immediate location but also in the surrounding areas.
“To deal with this problem I plan to deploy an enforcement vehicle to carry out the removal and clamping of illegally parked vehicles in bus lanes and on clearways.”
The minister also confirmed that three 24-hour bus lanes are to have their hours cut from Monday, January 23.
There were complaints about the camera operating 24 hours a day - even when buses are not running.
Figures obtained from the Belfast Telegraph revealed over 2,000 people were fined for driving in Belfast's bus lanes - in the dead of night when buses aren't even running.
On East Bridge Street, the bus lane will be operational from 7am and 7pm Monday to Saturday.
While the Saintfield Road lane will operate from 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday and the Upper Newtownards Road lane from 7.00am to 7.00pm Monday to Saturday.
Outside the hours of operation the lengths of road may be used by other traffic.
The minister added: "The changes are consistent with existing city centre bus lanes and the proposed operational hours of the Belfast Rapid Transit scheme and will help ensure the free flow of traffic in and around Belfast city.
“In modern cities with efficient public transport systems, bus lanes are the norm and vital for the many thousands of users who opt to travel by bus to school, work or for pleasure.
“Filling one bus with passengers equates to the removal of around 50 cars from our roads - that is a queue of cars about 1/3 km long. The new operational times will begin on Monday 23 January and I know will be welcomed by many who use these busy routes through the city.”
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “Reducing three bus lanes from 24 to 12 hours is a welcome and common sense decision. It was clearly unfair to fine drivers using bus lanes when buses were not even running”
“Given the depth of concern many city centre retailers have with over zealous fining policy in regard of the bus lanes, it is disappointing that the minister has decided to tighten enforcement.
“NIIRTA have concerns about the sheer volume of motorists that have been fined in Belfast after entering the bus lanes and the negative message it sends out to shoppers who use their cars.
"We repeat our call for a yellow card system to be introduced for the motorists who accidentally stray into bus lanes, rather than an instant fine.
“Sensible and fair enforcement of the bus lanes is important.
“We need a level playing field for shoppers who use their cars, public transport, or who walk or cycle to our town and city centres."