Traffic disaster as rush hour bus lanes to be implemented on an Urban Clearway

In the week of what could politely be described as a massive embarrassment over incorrectly configured bus lane cameras (something about which I’ve not bothered to comment as there’s absolutely no light I can shed on that particular mess) I saw a story in the Belfast Telegraph that is crying out for satirical comment…

Local businesses on the Upper Newtownards Road have been concerned about the impact of new bus lanes on their trade between 7.30 and 8am and 3.30 and 4.30pm each weekday.

Treasurer of Ballyhackamore Business Association, Doreen McKenzie was worried that it would cause chaos.  “I don’t see how you’re going to get buses pulling out into the other lane,” she said, which seems to defeat the purpose, as bus lanes are supposed to ensure that buses don’t need to pull into the other lane to get round parked cars. 

Local residents appeared to be unaware that the bus lanes would only be in force for part of the day, as they feared spillover of parking during the day into their streets.

Others were more welcoming. “Because the bus lanes will run for a little longer than the urban Clearway, buses will be able to go straight up the inside lane for longer – so there will be more room in the outside lane for cars to get past them,” said public transport blogger Andy Boal. “Businesses might not appreciate shoppers not being able to park outside their premises between 3.30 and 4.30, which is fair enough, although it should help the congestion in the area as local schools finish for the day, without stopping cars from stopping to collect children before 3.30pm. 

“In the end, the bus lanes will be good for both bus passengers and other road users who won’t be held up as much by parked cars.   If the bus lanes also discourage some through traffic, that will be even better for the traders of Ballyhackamore as their customers will find it easier to reach them and enjoy the amenities – the area has always had reasonable numbers of parking bays, and extra ones were to be added before the bus lanes were introduced. 

“The best news for the local traders is that the peak times of mid-morning, early afternoon, all day Saturday, and, above all, lunchtime, will be totally unaffected.”

I decided not to quote the UKIP MLA for Strangford, who continues to campaign against bus lanes, bus lane enforcement, and against law-abiding motorists stuck in the outside lane while “persecuted motorists” bunk the queues. The absolutely astonishing part of the Tele’s story is that they do not appear to have done the most basic checks that would have revealed that the new bus lanes only apply in rush hour.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Pure populism on behalf of both McNarry and the Tele. Persecuted motorists are screwed right now without the bus lanes – traffic on the Newtownards Road has been bad for a long time without them, and with the lanes in place, anyone with a bus ticket now has a fast route into town.

  • chrisjones2

    So if it is an urban clearway why are the bus lanes needed?

    And why do the buses in May Street not actually use the bus lanes but block the remaining lanes?

    This is a prime example of a Department pursing its own agenda and trying to drive traffic towards buses in which it has a direct financial interest at the expense of voters.

  • AndyB

    There are allowances in urban clearways for loading, picking up and setting down, but bus lanes are absolute “no access without police permission.”
    Your comment on the DRD having a direct financial interest in buses at the expense of voters is complete lies, and I have debunked that nonsense before. You might like to remember who pays for bus concessionary fares and rail public service obligation – and until the two bus companies started making money between them, bus public service obligation. If the buses start losing money, it’s US, the taxpayers, the ratepayers and the voters, who pay for them.
    If the buses make more money, then OUR money can be put into other things or our regional rate reduced – and on top of that, because more people are using the buses (and trains), there are fewer people in cars in the way of those who have to drive for a living.
    Try to stick to the facts, Chris. You have failed every time you have tried to argue with me in the past.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I must agree Andy.

    What makes Chris’ comments even more ridiculous is that this bus lane is (if I understand it right) part of the forthcoming e-way guided bus scheme, which was approved by the Executive some considerable time ago. It is part of an agreed transport strategy at Executive level, not some cash producing scheme hatched by a civil servant somewhere.

    I mostly drive but I completely support the bus lanes. I recently tried the bus myself and was surprised by how quick and inexpensive it is. Services can be a bit thin on the ground outside of peak hours, so you do need to be organised to catch the bus, but on the whole Translink get a lot of stick for what is a more than adequate service given the resources they are provided.

  • Mister_Joe

    Seems that you are devaluing the meaning of “disaster”.

  • AndyB
  • Mister_Joe

    The tele always exaggerates. I’ve complained to them in the past about their frequent use of the word “fury” to describe many an innocuous comment by, usually, a politician.

  • chrisjones2


    I note you now accuse me of being a liar and to justify this you qualify it as a ‘direct’ interest. You enthusiasm is blinding you to the political realities.

    Let me state it in simple terms. NITHC seems to operate under a ‘contract’ from the Department which also gives it grants and subsidies. The Department has therefore been pressing it by cutting the grants and pressing it to make lower losses / more profits. They can do that three ways – put up prices,.cut costs or increase volumes

    Economically viable price rises are politically unacceptable in a culture where our politicians refuse to take any difficult decisions.

    Cuts in hopelessly uneconomic routes are impossible when someone’s granny who knows someone in the party may complain or an MLA may lose 10 votes. For purely political reasons we are improving railway lines that will still make losses

    That leaves increasing volumes . So the Department has a clear and compelling financial interest in forcing motorists off the road to push up utilisation on Metro in Belfast and to make Metro journeys as short as possible to attract more punters

  • chrisjones2

    “not some cash producing scheme hatched by a civil servant somewhere”

    …and who wrote the Executive papers? Do try and keep up with how Government works

    ….I actually agree with you Translink but that’s not the issue in this. Its about the freedom of motorists who pay for the roads to use them and the rampant proliferation of bus lanes that as in May Street the buses often then refuse to use!!!!

  • AndyB

    Chris, all your waffle doesn’t make it true.

    Let me state it in real, verifiable, terms. In other words, the truth.

    Every operator of local bus services in Great Britain, and until April of this year, Northern Ireland, receives a grant representing 81% of the excise duty they pay for their fuel.

    Every operator of local bus services in the United Kingdom is recompensed for concessionary fares accepted. In Northern Ireland, this is set at 80% of the fare foregone, and is probably the same across the UK, on a cost neutral basis.

    Almost every operator of local bus services in Great Britain receives subsidy for operating socially necessary services under contract to their local authority. Translink does not do this.

    It is therefore entirely accurate to say that bus services in NI are run commercially. On top of that, and I have made this point repeatedly, Ulsterbus and Metro cross-subsidise internally and between each other, so that profitable routes pay for loss-making services on other routes.

    If customers are priced off the buses, there will be two primary consequences. Firstly, it will be necessary for us, the ratepayer, to subsidise socially-necessary loss-making bus services, something which we have not done in years.

    Secondly, people will drive because, and Belfast will come to a halt. That is in the interests of NOBODY.

    With a very few exceptions, rail services are not run commercially anywhere in the UK. Any attempt to operate them commercially in Northern Ireland, ie without public service obligation funding, would see them close because fares would be priced at a level which would make them totally unaffordable. I have to remind you that privatisation saw subsidies for GB rail services increase, because the vast majority of rail services in GB cannot run profitably. Rather, the challenge they face is to make the best of the subsidy they receive.

    If rail services closed, again the obvious statement is that Belfast will come to a halt. This also applies if more remote lines are closed, as the further a person has to travel by car or bus to reach a railhead, the more likely they are to drive the whole way because of the convenience of not changing mode.

    That is, again, in the interests of NOBODY.

    Rather, it is blindingly obvious that measures to encourage bus and rail travel, and therefore get motorists off the road, are very much in the interests of EVERYBODY.

    They are in the interests of commerce. Tradesmen who need to get through congestion to their next call, and losing time that could be spent earning money. Delivery drivers and couriers. Businesses awaiting deliveries, depending on them to be able to serve their customers. Distribution companies having to raise charges to suppliers because of the money wasted in congestion.

    They are in the interests of consumers, because suppliers charged more by distributors to distribute their product will pass that on to the retailer, and then to the customer – plus the unproductive time we waste in congestion ourselves (not to mention the fact that if we are on public transport, we can be productive!)

    They are in the interests of motorists, because fewer other motorists make it easier for those who need to drive that day to get about their business.

    They are in the interests of ratepayers, because more farebox income means less subsidy required.

    They are also in the interests of the environment, as the more people enabled to use public transport, the fewer vehicles and the lower emissions. So the benefits accrue both on green grounds and on commerce grounds.

    Finally, your lie was that the DRD has a “direct financial interest at the expense of voters.” You’ll note that I have quoted your use of the word direct, so it wasn’t me who qualified that, but in any case it is a straw man argument as my post made quite clear that my issue is primarily that you allege that it is is at the expense of voters.

    I have demonstrated any number of times that the interest was not in any shape or form at the expense of voters – rather that it is in our interest that more people use public transport.

    You will not win this argument.

  • AndyB

    And I suppose bus companies do not pay to use the roads? Oh wait… yeah, they pay several times what car drivers pay to get a single vehicle on the road for a year, and a typical rush hour bus carries more than 30 times the number of people than a typical rush hour car so it’s ever so slightly more efficient.

    In any case, what business has through traffic in May Street? Do you not think there might be a connection between bus lanes in May Street and all road signs sending through traffic just about any other direction? You might be surprised to hear that the intention of this is to make access to Belfast city centre easier for shoppers and other people on business in the city centre, while people with no intention of stopping are diverted to more suitable roads.

    Finally, you deliberately ignored @disqus_PAxgSjblB1:disqus’s point. The transport strategy may have been written by Civil Servants (obvious really), but the Executive had every opportunity to rip it up and make said Civil Servants start over with a different plan – and, for that matter, countless ministers for Regional Development have had the opportunity to ask them to rewrite it before it even reaches the Executive.

    Reality, Chris. Reality.

  • chrisjones2

    Subsidy …subsidy …subsidy …more farebox income means less subsidy required. …but they are run commercially and the Department has no fiscal interest in pushing traffic onto the buses and anyone who dares suggest otherwise is a liar


    And rail services are hopelessly uneconomic so we expand them at huge cost!

    And frankly I don’t care about winning an argument with you. What I do care about is the transport mess that is being made here and the impact on my city and business

    I also dont have to care because the money has run out and soon the train and buses will hit the financial buffers. That is a shame as it will hit many many people …but hey you will have less congestion as there will be less work to go to and few civil servants to travel about and plan these schemes

  • AndyB

    Yes, the buses are run commercially, because their only revenue subsidy is to be compensated for accepting people who either pay part fares or no fares. Someone has to pay for them to travel. That is economics.

    You are continuing to misrepresent what I am saying. And I am going to tell you to stop your lies.

    I did not say that the Department has no fiscal interest in pushing people onto the bus. What I said is that the interest is not at the expense of voters.

    Of course the Department has a fiscal interest in getting people onto buses. I have been explaining to you why that is proper (clue: it’s not so much fiscal interest as fiscal responsibility, as it keeps required subsidy levels well below those required for privately owned companies in GB, even allowing for bus purchases, and similarly for NIR against GB train operating companies and Network Rail, and as I have said many times, it is also responsibility to society at large.)

    The fact is that Belfast cannot handle the amount of motor traffic demanding space without demolishing buildings to make wider roads. Those who don’t need to drive have to be diverted, so that when I need to drive, and when you need to drive, we can do so more easily, and everyone can be accommodated.

    Your vision is of a dystopian city which will be bunged from morning to night with cars because public transport would be the preserve of the concessionary pass holders because buses will be even more unaffordable for the poor than cars are now, railway lines will have been closed, and there isn’t and never will be enough room between the buildings to take all the single-occupancy cars required to replace the public transport.

    Follow your vision, and our city will hit the buffers, and its business will be going nowhere – and you’ll have nothing to drive your car into to do business.

    It is also futile to blame civil servants for implementing schemes demanded by their political masters (in this case not only Danny Kennedy but the Executive at large), and whose masters can tell them to do something else at any time.

    And to go back to my original point – how much difference will two rush hour bus lanes make to a road usually lined all day with parked cars anyway?

  • AndyB

    And as for the railways: improve services, and has been proven year after year, even through the crash, people will use them. NIR has been carrying more passengers than the UTA did on a larger network, because the money was invested, and that benefits everyone who relies on the road network (clue: even if you live in deepest Fermanagh, railways benefit you by speeding up commerce in the east of the province and making it cheaper to get goods to you – and I’ve explained that to you several times as well.)

    You’re not very fond of facts, are you? Just “oh poor me, my city has got bus lanes, where am I supposed to drive?” instead of “I need to get from A to B, and I need to do it in my car, do half of these cars need to be there?”

    Indeed. Bus lanes on arterial routes don’t have a significant effect on through traffic due to car parking, when they’re not in operation, but they do help buses, and together with the city centre bus lanes, are proven to have resulted in getting more people into the City centre since their introduction. On top of that, since all through traffic from beyond the Outer Ring is now directed away from the bus lanes altogether, one wonders how they can possibly make things worse? After all, if a driver has no intention of stopping in the city centre, why can’t they be sent another way to make life easier for those of us who want to work and shop here?

    (Want to check that? Saintfield road traffic is now sent via Hillhall to the M1, via the Ravenhill Road to the M2 and via the Knock Road to all points east. Through traffic from Newtownards and Comber is directed along the Outer Ring, and so on and so forth so that only city centre-bound and local traffic should be left within it)

  • chrisjones2

    “In any case, what business has through traffic in May Street? ”

    Whatever business the driver wants. Its a free country and (still in some parts) a public road that the drivers have paid for. And who said anything about through traffic? The truth is that most buses in May Street refuse to use the bus lanes. The whole design is flawed.

    As for accusing me of lying you now claim that

    “I did not say that the Department has no fiscal interest in pushing people onto the bus.”

    but what you said before was

    ” the DRD having a direct financial interest in buses at the expense of voters is complete lies”

    You now try to wriggle out of that by the tautology that ” the interest is not at the expense of voters.”

    That all depends on ones perspective doesn’t it? You have chosen to self define this as you knowing better than other people (the voters) what is best for them . Perhaps you do but we serfs have the right to views and to express them freely and reasonably – unyiol you extinguish that too ‘in our own interest’.

    And expressing them in that way does not make us ‘liars’ nor does asking questions about an autocratic transport policy. It seems that you don’t like that or don’t like anyone challenging this guff, then sorry but tough. Try and keep a bit of perspective and humility

  • AndyB

    Excuse me, because I am wriggling out of nothing. YOU are the one trying to wriggle out of your OWN words – YOU are the one who qualified the financial interest that the DRD has in buses as being “at the expense of voters.”

    All I did was respond to that point that YOU made, and because you keep trying to say that I put that qualification on it, that makes YOU a liar.

    You don’t like me proving that their interest is NOT at the expense of voters, rather that it is because they are answerable to us for how they use our money, and people using buses makes it easier for everyone else to go about their business.

    As for May Street, it may be a free country (and its road surface is paid for out of general taxation, not just that of drivers), but that freedom never sits in isolation.

    Our freedom to use May Street to travel from east Belfast to the Westlink rather than avoiding the city centre infringes on the ability of people to do business in May Street, and because much of the May Street traffic has to go through Cromac Square first, conflicting with traffic along Victoria Street, has a much wider impact.

    Now, bus drivers have the same issue. They have the legal freedom to use any lane in May Street, but those who refuse to use the proper bus gate are infringing on the ability of other people to go about their business. There are other issues with the bus gate with regard to how long the traffic lights take to change, but those aren’t insurmountable.

    In the end, all freedoms come with responsibility, because every one of them infringes on somebody else’s freedoms.

    Belfast is a city without sufficient road space for everyone demanding it, few options to create more road space, and a large amount of traffic that is unavoidably present (including people who usually take public transport or cycle but whose business that day means they can’t. Like me tomorrow, as it happens, although I might yet cycle.)

    In that context, any person who could conveniently take public transport on a particular day is making life more difficult for those who cannot.

  • AndyB

    And yet you are incapable of answering my basic point that fewer people on the buses and trains would mean more drivers on the roads, and thus more congestion, and therefore not even remotely in the interests of voters?

  • chrisjones2

    You obsession is leading you to simple man playing. I know its terrible when someone challenges you in your locked in views but keep with it

    Your assumption is for example that if you put bus fares up fewer people will use buses. But bus demand is quite inelastic – if people need to travel they will and give up something else.

    You are also obsessed on through traffic on May st. Bus drivers don’t discriminate who they block…whether its someone going locally or to Derry. They don’t know or care – they just don’t use the bus lanes that now take up half the street and block up the rest of it for other users and strangely Translink doesn’t tell them to do so. Why?

    I will now await our missive tomorrow. You will have to have the last word.

  • AndyB

    I don’t think that telling somebody that they are deliberately refusing to acknowledge that they made a particular statement is playing the man, even before considering the fact that such a statement was demonstrably untrue to begin with.

    Translink can tell drivers what they like, but unfortunately it’s legal to do what they’re doing, and it’s hard to discipline people for refusing to use a bus lane. In any case, as I say, May Street isn’t intended for through traffic, any more than Chichester Street is.

    You assume that bus demand is inelastic, but that is only partly true. There is a core who will always choose the bus, or who have no choice, but the fall in ridership as car ownership has risen over decades suggests that demand is fairly elastic, on price, time and frequency, resulting in service cuts, which tends to result in buses being at the wrong time for passengers, resulting in more people driving, and so on and so forth.

    Most of the present Ulsterbus timetables are noticeably less busy than they were 25 years ago, and when Ulsterbus operations last reported separately from Metro, Metro had become profitable after decades of losses while Ulsterbus was making a loss.

    The bus lanes have resulted in an increase in bus ridership into Belfast, which suggests that if the buses were slowed up again by their abolition, it would result in a mass exodus back into the cars they used to use and a further emptying of park and rides deserted by drivers who have read misleading headlines.

    As I say, there simply isn’t room for everybody who would like to drive in Belfast, and believe me, I would love to drive everywhere except when I get the train deliberately – I’m a petrolhead really. That’s the reality you refuse to recognise.

    And you keep ignoring every point I make about why people who need to drive into Belfast need others to keep out of their way unless they share that actual need.

  • Mister_Joe

    “Persecuted”? Is that another word from the Tele 100 word dictionary?