Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Viewpoint: Let the bus deal with the fuss

So Belfast is not to get new trams, but will have to make do with faster, more regular buses. While the report of the Department for Regional Development is disappointing, it has to be accepted that the city has neither the numbers of passengers nor the roads wide enough for a Dublin-style LUAS tram system.

At least there is now official recognition that traffic conditions are so bad that something drastic has to be done about improving the flow.

Soon the excuse that the Westlink is the source of the problem will be gone, showing that although cars and lorries will have a quicker journey into the city, they are still liable to hold-ups once they get there.

The best answer, of course, is to keep as much car traffic out of the centre as possible.

Three pilot schemes are proposed from 2011, two in east Belfast, from Dundonald and the Titanic Quarter, and one in west Belfast, into the city centre.

Presumably other routes would have to make do with an enhanced Metro service, until there was proof of success.

Before any details emerge, the transport experts must know they have a mammoth job to do, to convince people that buses can move them as efficiently as trams.

All over Europe, cities rely on modern trams, and Belfast's misfortune is that, unlike Dublin, most of its main thoroughfares are too narrow to allow for a proper separation between rail and road traffic.

If buses are the alternative — along with better use of the existing train services — they must be given clear roads to operate on.

Dedicated bus lanes are essential, not subject to interruptions, and parking of cars and lorries along main routes must normally be forbidden. Traffic wardens must be constantly on guard, handing out bigger penalties, and parking charges must increase.

All this spells more agony for motorists, who value their independence and may argue that they already pay more than their fair share in fuel tax and licence fees.

Shopkeepers along the main roads, already hit by rising rates and rents, would also protest, seeing the removal of parking places outside their doors.

There will be no gain without pain, however, in the congestion stakes — as London has already learned — and sooner or later politicians and people will have to face the facts.

Are they serious about easing the flow of traffic to and from the city centre, so that getting to work or the shops is a less frustrating experience, or are they not?

The bus-based solution, which must be linked to clearer roads and reasonable fares, may be the only one that is practical, as the consultants have said.

It must be as smooth as possible, for drivers as well as passengers, if it is to succeed.

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