Bus lanes will help cater for growing demand for public transport

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Few people would have predicted 20 years ago that public transport in Northern Ireland would come back into vogue.

Then car usage was almost at its peak, and there was talk of train lines perhaps being closed.

Now some of our train routes are thriving and in need of extra provision. There are numerous potential future park and ride rail locations in addition to the existing ones. The West Lisburn plan is an important one.

Park and ride is also popular on some bus routes. Certain locations are so much in demand that all car spaces get taken.

Some public expenditure in Northern Ireland is of dubious value, and perhaps in need of reform, including free NHS prescriptions for people who can easily afford them.

But public transport is if anything deserving of extra funds. It is clear that there is a demand for buses and trains, as increasing numbers of motorists opt to avoid the strain and stopping and starting of driving.

It also serves a wider public benefit by taking traffic off our congested roads, not through penalising drivers but by offering them a service that many of them want.

It is welcome therefore that extended bus lanes are opening today on the M1 and M2 motorways, giving further assistance to public transport on those routes from 7am to 7pm.

It is an efficient use of infrastructure that already exists, within the motorway boundary. However, it does mean that the hard shoulder is less safe for emergency use by other vehicles than it would otherwise be. It is essential therefore that the low speed limits that apply in the lanes are enforced by cameras, so no bus driver is tempted to go faster than them.

There are also complementary improvements that should be made to road infrastructure around Belfast that will help both public and private transport, such as the York Street interchange upgrade. Another is the widening of the Sydenham bypass, which should include an upgrade of Tillysburn junction.