Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce has called for the scrapping of around 40 bus lanes in the city so that traffic can move more freely.
While supporting the introduction of the Belfast Rapid Transit plan, due to be in place by 2018, the traders’ organisation said any bus lanes not included should be taken out of commission.
Chamber president Gordon McElroy told the committee for infrastructure: “One of the criticisms of the city that the chamber hears most often is that there is difficulty in accessing it. This is a constant and ongoing criticism.
“We regularly hear clients and customers avoid coming to Belfast because of access issues. Some of that may be perception but some of it is real.
“There are things that create perceptions, such as the introduction of the 20mph zone and the bus lane cameras and the press attention on the amount of revenue that is being generated from them. Those things frighten people from coming into the city.
“Our members and the people who deal with them are most concerned about the amount of confusion that is being created by the bus lanes in Belfast. They are concerned that the bus lanes are operating at different times.”
He added: “It does not mean that there should not be bus lanes or lanes set aside for specific types of traffic to improve transport flow. We really support the introduction of Belfast Rapid Transit, and the bus lanes that serve it should be there.”
The new Belfast Rapid Transit would see the city served by a main route running from west to east Belfast and also a service to the Titanic Quarter.
Mr McElroy proposed that the infrastructure department “be more radical” and “remove the non-BRT-related bus lanes as an experiment”.
He said: “[It] was done in Liverpool, where it was found that traffic was freed up and moved much more easily through the city.”
Among the 39 ‘redundant’ bus lanes are Lisburn Road, Great Victoria Street, Ormeau Road, Castlereagh Road and Cregagh Road.
Gordon Clarke, Northern Ireland director for Sustrans, said they are “very concerned” at this proposal by Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce.
He said: “Bus lanes are protected routes for cyclists and are therefore vitally important for bike commuters until such times as there is better infrastructure.
“Removing bus lanes and encouraging more cars in the city centre will cause air quality to deteriorate further and is off-putting for people living and working in the city.”