Belfast Rapid Transit System: A plan with potential
Northern Ireland's commuters love their cars and all attempts to force them out of their vehicles are bound to fail. This is the reality that transport planners have to recognise and the new Rapid Transit System for Belfast – which was outlined yesterday – strikes the proper balance.
It will seek to ensure that congestion in the city centre is eased by providing alternative transport to cars, rather than banning them.
Key to the success of the scheme is the development of large park and ride facilities on the outskirts of east and west Belfast, with commuters journeying onto the city centre on dedicated bus lanes.
These will accommodate new 100-seat buses which will run frequently at peak periods providing fast, accessible transport links along two of the most popular routes into and out of the city.
This marriage of private and public transport is due to become operational in 2017 and there will be some pain in the intervening years along the proposed routes as lanes are widened and footpaths narrowed.
Hopefully it will be better received than the roadworks associated with Belfast On The Move. Perhaps commuters will see this as an attempt to improve transport links, whereas Belfast On The Move was simply seen as an attempt to drive cars out of the city centre.
An improving economy should mean more job opportunities in Belfast, which will attract more commuters, and it is important that the transport links can handle the increased traffic with the minimum of congestion.
The new system seems to be a potential winner. So, too, would be the suggested rail link to Belfast International Airport. This has always seemed to be an inexcusable omission in past public transport strategies and Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy should be congratulated for putting it back into spending plans.
The largely rural nature of Northern Ireland means private transport will always be necessary, but as the increased numbers of people using trains in the past few years show, commuters will also use public transport if it is easily accessible and of a high quality.