Plan to extend restrictions on busy Belfast bus lanes

The Belfast Rapid Transit scheme will be served by 18-metre long articulated buses with a capacity of around 100 people
The Belfast Rapid Transit scheme will be served by 18-metre long articulated buses with a capacity of around 100 people

Proposals for Belfast’s new rapid bus network could see the operating hours of bus lanes extended on some of Belfast’s busiest routes.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard this week announced a consultation on the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme including plans to extend the hours of its associated bus lanes from 7am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday.

The roads affected by the BRT project run from east to west across the greater Belfast area, from Dundonald to Dunmurry, and include Upper Newtownards Road, Albertbridge Road, Falls Road and Andersonstown Road as well as lanes in the city centre. Part of the scheme also extends to the north of the city along Queen’s Road up to Titanic Visitor’s Centre and NI Science Park.

City centre aside, the majority of the roads in the BRT scheme currently operate from 7.30am to 9.30am and again from 3.30pm to 6.30pm.

The Department of Infrastructure confirmed there are three main types of bus lane in Belfast: 24-hour lanes, a small number of which remain in the city centre; 12-hour bus lanes; and arterial routes where lanes are operational in during peak hours.

Any vehicle other than a bus, taxi, bicycle or motorbike using the city’s bus lanes faces a £90 fine, reduced to £45 if paid within 14 days.

Proposals under consultation for BRT would see several arterial routes increase their hours of operation to 12 hours.

By extending bus lane operating hours and amending waiting restrictions along the BRT, the scheme, which is due to come into force in September 2018, aims to operate peak services at maximum intervals of eight minutes.

It will be served by 18-metre long articulated buses with a capacity for 100 people.

The 2011 Census revealed that, across the Belfast City Council area, some 38% of households do not have access to a private vehicle.

Proposals for Belfast Rapid Transit are derived from the recommendations of a business case prepared by independent transport consultants Atkins, KPMG and Arup which was finalised in 2012.

When asked why it was necessary to impose the restrictions from 7am, a department spokesperson said: “Data showed that significant traffic flows build from around 7am towards the peak hour of 8am to 9am. It would be inappropriate to delay the start of the operation of the BRT bus lanes until congestion is building up or is at its peak as the reliability of the BRT services would already have been affected.”

The informal consultation launched by the minister, which is in addition to the normal statutory legislative process, begins in the next few months.