Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont must drive congestion solution

Editor's Viewpoint

Anyone caught in a traffic jam takes the congestion as personal, thinking only of what it costs them in time lost and journey lengthened. But, as a new survey shows, there is a huge cost to the local economy in all that idling traffic.

It is estimated that congestion ran up a bill of £1bn last year in fuel costs, time wasted, and higher freighting and business fees which are passed on to customers, raising household bills.

An important cost which is not factored into the bill is the effect on the environment. This is obviously considerable given the thousands of vehicles going nowhere fast during the morning and evening rush hours and spewing out various gases.

The most congested place, unsurprisingly, is Belfast and part of the reason is that it is impossible, given the built-up nature of the city and its road layout, to make those routes wider or better.

Instead, traffic planners have tried through the use of bus lanes to simultaneously make public transport more attractive and to make driving in the city more difficult.

But Northern Ireland is a largely rural province and the car is seen as essential both for commuting and for leisure. Public transport simply cannot entice the private motorists out of their vehicles and its appeal is not helped by the relatively small rail network which is often seen as too slow as well as neglecting large parts of the west of the province.

The AA has discovered that a significant number of motorists are forced to use their vehicles to commute to work because of circumstances beyond their control.

These factors include those who have had to find work a greater distance from home after being made redundant, the cheaper cost of housing further away from the main cities or jobs being relocated.

But finding a way of easing congestion is not easy. Variable starting times at work could be the answer in some cases, as could working from home or greater investment in infrastructure. The new cross-city rapid transit system due to start this year in Belfast may make public transport more popular on a select number of routes, but will add to the congestion given the space needed for the double-length buses.

The issue, like so many others, is not helped by the absence of a devolved government at Stormont which could draw up a more cohesive transport policy. But politics remains even more log-jammed than the province's roads.

Belfast Telegraph

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