Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Belfast could get bendy buses, but unfortunately not out as far as the airport

And another update to a previous transport-related post.

The Department for Regional Development & Efficient Movement of People has employed consultants Atkins & KPMG to investigate the possibilities for a rapid transit system in Belfast.

The report has been published today and concludes that Belfast needs bendy buses rather than a light rail system. Unfortunately, not all the report is available on the DRD website ... not such a good example of devolved government public accountability. Update - website now fixed.

Setting up a light rail system (£590m) would cost four times as much as a bus-based system (£147m), and the annual operating costs for rail (£6.78m) would dwarf those for buses (£1.44m).

In summary, the proposed pilot would

  • run three routes across Belfast city: (1) CITI - East Belfast (Dundonald) to City Centre; (2) EWAY - Titanic Quarter across to City Centre (with possibility of later extension to Queen's University and City Hospital); (3) WWAY/O4 - City Centre to Royal Victoria Hospital and on into West Belfast
  • offer departures every five minutes
  • using on a fleet of articulated buses capable of holding 120 passengers, perhaps with guided (semi-automatic) driving system
  • carry just over 3,000 passengers at peak hours
  • use dedicated lanes where possible

The report recommends that the running of the new public transport service should be put out to tender, though Translink would be free to apply. The pilot route proposals could later be augmented if the scheme proved successful.

Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy, was enthusiastic as he launched the report:

“This is our opportunity to create a new dynamic transportation system for the city, one that helps link people to jobs, hospitals, schools and colleges. One that links communities to the city centre and the emerging opportunities in Titanic Quarter. A system that can be expanded to other parts of the city in due course, a system that attracts drivers out of their cars as they see the advantages of rapid transit.

The Programme for Government highlights rapid transit as a key priority with a commitment to start work on the first scheme by 2011. I have secured £111m for rapid transit and continue to explore opportunities to draw in additional private sector finance.”

However, a big disappointment in the report is that the case for extending the Titanic Quarter route out as far as the Belfast City Airport (and Holywood Exchange) is not thought to be economically viable.

A combination of factors work against this common sense approach, including the cost of buying the necessary land, the commercial impact on Bombardier’s site (which would be dissected in places) and safety concerns getting access to the airport site due to proximity to the runway. No one seems keen yet to look at just running the buses along the Sydenham bypass!

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