Anger over bus lane logjams as officials meet in bid to end chaos
A Belfast business owner has had to extend his opening hours for customers battling traffic jams caused by the new 12-hour bus lane in Titanic Quarter.
We Are Vertigo entertainment complex proprieter Gareth Murphy usually locks up at 7pm, but has been forced to stay open longer to accommodate people held up in tailbacks on Queen's Road and Sydenham Road.
"We have people travelling from all over Ireland to use our facilities and they are being caught out on the final mile of their journey," he said.
"Our customers book very specific time slots. The knock-on effect of this is taking its toll on our incredible staff who have been extremely flexible, but this is not sustainable."
Mr Murphy, whose customers travel from as far away as Cork, Donegal and Dublin, is hoping that the new Belfast Rapid Transit Glider service will reduce the volume of traffic when it begins on September 3, but he has his doubts.
"Only time will tell if people migrate to the new buses. If they don't, then an urgent rethink will be needed," he said.
"I know that a lot of our customers won't be using it, because they travel from far away and aren't familiar with the city, they want to follow their satnav right to our door."
He has been left bewildered by the Department for Infrastructure's decision to restrict 50% of the road weeks before the new service is launched.
"Why have they cut off access to half of the road leading to a very popular tourist attraction (Titanic Belfast) before providing an alternative transport option?" he asked.
He also expressed fears over the impact of upcoming events at the SSE Arena and the beginning of the new academic year, which will soon see thousands of students flooding into Belfast Metropolitan College.
Staff at the college, who have complained of spending over an hour in traffic just to join further tailbacks at the Sydenham junction, also fear the problem is about to get significantly worse. "We have serious problems now but this will soon be chaos," one employee said.
They also raised concerns over taxi drivers refusing to accept jobs from Titanic-based customers.
"My driver this morning said he has stopped accepting fares here in the evenings," they added.
Other members of staff complained of 20-minute waits just to exit the car park and said the temporary adjustment of traffic light phasing in the area had only exacerbated the problem.
"It might help people on the main road, but it is creating an absolute nightmare for anyone coming from the side streets trying to get out," one said.
Last night a Belfast taxi driver told this newspaper that he snubs passengers at Titanic Belfast due to the detrimental impact congestion has on his earnings.
"If Titanic comes up on my screen in the car, I won't go," he said.
"It's just not worth it, and I know other drivers are doing the same.
"You might get in OK, but you won't get out, and every hour I spend sitting stuck in traffic costs me money. And if they are going to Titanic (from the city centre), there's not much I can do, but I dread getting those jobs and try to avoid them."
Hundreds of hotel guests and staff are also being impacted by the mayhem.
Yesterday Department for Infrastructure, Translink and Belfast Harbour officials met with management at Catalyst Inc in the Titanic Quarter to discuss how to improve the situation.
In a statement, the company welcomed Belfast Harbour's decision to open an "interim relief road" at peak evening time, which will link Queen's Road to Sydenham Road.
The Department for Infrastructure said it recognised there were problems, had implemented changes to alleviate them, and requested patience while a review was carried out.
Staff were deployed to monitor the situation last night, and will return again next week.
"One of the ways all major cities try to tackle congestion is through increased usage of public transport," the department added.
Translink said it also recognised "significant challenges" and will continue engaging with Catalyst Inc and other stakeholders to improve traffic flow in the area, but insisted there was "strong support from all parties" for the "many benefits" Glider will bring.