The Glider was a pleasant way to get to and from work in Belfast city centre

Passengers now swipe on using these machines at the bus stop, rather than buying a ticket from the driver, which saves journey time.'Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker
Passengers now swipe on using these machines at the bus stop, rather than buying a ticket from the driver, which saves journey time.'Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker

The Glider that I took from a stop near Dundonald into Belfast yesterday just after 9am took 22 minutes.

It was about the time that the old 4x express service would have done it, and five to 10 minutes faster than the stopping 4a or 4b buses would have travelled the distance.

The now defunct 4x ran between the park and ride car park and Belfast city centre and Dundonald. But the 4x had only seven stops, whereas the Glider has 23, so it is doing well to cover the distance at the pace that the 4x was able to cover it.

The main reason is that the Glider no longer has to wait for everyone to get to buy a ticket from the driver, which they now do at the stop.

This in theory makes fare evasion easier, and critics of the new service say ticket dodging is a reason why similar ‘bendy’ buses have been abandoned in other cities.

No doubt aware of the need to deter such thinking early on yesterday, Translink seemed to have ticket inspectors out in force. As the Glider on which I was travelling pulled into Ballyhackamore, two inspectors got on — their cheeriness belying the slight menace of the message they were sending out.

Apparently fines were not being enforced on the first day, but there were two more fare inspectors at the Glider stop at Lanyon Place, as Central station is now called.

The Glider had in fact skipped some of the stops en route to Belfast, where passengers stood waiting. This seemed to be because there was another vehicle behind, and they were trying to avoid them bunching up, like buses famously do.

Plenty of users will, like me, have been thrown by the fact that the Glider no longer pulls into Donegall Square West at the side of City Hall, where the number 4 buses used to begin and finish.

Now, if you do not get out at the Glider stop on May Street it travels on to College Square, near Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and then on to west Belfast.

The woman sitting beside me was excited at the prospect of being able to travel straight from east Belfast to the Royal Victoria Hospital, and perhaps get a job there.

Another woman nearby, who spent 21 years living in Toronto, said that they had had bendy buses there but withdrew them after they failed to lure people out of cars.

When I swiped on my card before boarding the Glider in east Belfast it said that my ticket only took me to College Green. Travelling all the way through to the west requires two tickets, although it is not clear where you swipe for the second part.

The Glider back to east Belfast at 6.30pm was standing room only from Chichester Street to Ballyhackamore (which took 22 minutes, Dundonald over 30). Having to stand rarely happened on the double decker. Widespread standing was a drawback I foresaw weeks ago.

That aside, the Glider was a pleasant way to get to and from work — and we weren’t held up by one of the obstacles I mentioned in my Saturday column, cyclists.