Some thoughts on the first week of the new Glider bus service in Belfast

The Gliders are an improvement on the old bus service, with one major drawback: There is now much, much more standing
The Gliders are an improvement on the old bus service, with one major drawback: There is now much, much more standing

For much of the last week I have gone out of my way to use the new Glider bus service, to test it.

On two evenings this week I took the last bus out to east Belfast, which now leaves at 11.30pm. There was almost no-one on either of them, whereas formerly last buses were quite busy, whatever the day.

I think this is because few passengers realise they can now get a later bus (the last bus used to leave City Hall at 11pm).

This is a welcome improvement, although when Translink said the new service runs until midnight I assumed they meant it left the city at that time. In fact it arrives at its end point around that time.

One of the 11.30pm Gliders I took left a minute early, which is probably because they do not depart from the city centre, but rather at the far end of the route and can make up time by the time they reach the heart of the city and be ahead of schedule.

This is a problem because if a last bus is early it strands people. But even so the slightly later timetable is an improvement.

On Thursday afternoon I took the Glider to west Belfast and back. The service that left May Street at 3.09pm took a long time to get to McKinstry Road, near Dunmurry: 59 minutes. It was crammed too. But the return took only 40 minutes.

I see there are tensions in the west of the city over the new bus lanes. If restrictions are lessened there then the service will be even slower and delay services in the east too.

The Gliders are an improvement on the old bus service, with the one major drawback that I am sorry to say I foresaw: There is now much, much more standing.

I stood much of the way to Dundonald one evening and one morning a Glider that I was on from Dundonald was standing room only by Stormont and refusing people by Ballyhackamore. It took 40 minutes to get into the city, which if anything is slower than the old 4x bus.

As the transport guru Wesley Johnston says, this will be solved by an enlarged fleet. Will Translink have the funds amid other demands on its resources?

All in all, it is good to see so many people keen to use public transport.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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