Plan for £147m rapid bus network in Belfast
Major plans to develop a £147m rapid transit network across Belfast were revealed by the Government today.
Transport Minister Conor Murphy announced that a feasibility study carried out for the Department of Regional Development confirmed that installing the network across the city is viable.
However what the department described as "trams on wheels" - and not a light rail system which had also been considered - are set to run along three pilot routes travelling to different parts of the city centre.
"Transportation experts have concluded that the most appropriate system for the city is a modern and high-class bus-based system," Mr Murphy said.
The minister said the study will now be discussed by key parties before the plan is finalised.
However, Mr Murphy said work is expected to start on the first part of the major transport scheme by 2011.
The routes set to be developed will run from the city centre to Dundonald, the Titanic Quarter development and west Belfast.
The Royal Victoria Hospital has been earmarked as one of the stops in the west Belfast area.
However the south of the city - which has experienced major problems with congestion - will not be serviced by the rapid transit scheme.
The possibility of the network being extended to include Queen's University and Belfast City Hospital had been discussed.
However, Mr Murphy said it is a system that "can be expanded to other parts of the city in due course".
The department said the decision to support a bus transit system was linked to estimated costs and potential patronage.
"This is our opportunity to create a new dynamic transportation system for the city, one that helps link people to jobs, hospitals, schools and colleges," Mr Murphy said.
Mr Murphy said the study found the light rail rapid transit system - like the LUAS in Dublin - was not economically viable.
A light rail service would, according to the study, cost £590m to develop and £6.78m to operate annually.
The Bus Rapid Transit service would cost £1.44m to operate annually.
It is estimated that the scheme could take 3,179 passengers during the morning peak hour.
The report will now be considered by interested parties including Belfast City Council and the Executive.
Mr Murphy added any rapid transit scheme must integrate with existing public transport.
It is understood the system will be built and developed by the DRD while the running of the service will be put out to tender.
"Rapid transit is an exciting prospect for Belfast and I have recently visited the Netherlands and seen example of what could be possible," said the minister.
"It is, however, important to share the findings and recommendations of the studies with those who can assist me in reaching a final decision on what is the best system for Belfast.
"I envisage it as a service offering improved speed, reliability, comfort and access features over conventional public transport. It is a service that should be segregated from other traffic as much as possible with new vehicle designs that enhance the journey and reflect Belfast as a 21st century city."