I am fully committed to the delivery of Belfast rapid transit (BRT), including not only the current phase but future extensions to the north and south of the city. Belfast rapid transit is a transformational public transport project for the city. It represents a great opportunity for Belfast going forward and is a major undertaking by my Department in support of an Executive priority.
To assess the viability of potential Belfast rapid transit routes to north and south Belfast, my Department has already undertaken surveys. The results of those, along with passenger information and existing data sets, are being used in the development of a new transport model for Belfast. The model will enable my Department to assess potential options for the extension of Belfast rapid transit and to prepare a business case for the extension of the system to north and south Belfast. Any future extension of the system will, of course, be subject to the availability of funding. My Department is continuing to engage with those responsible for current and proposed developments on potential future routes for BRT, including the Department for Social Development and the University of Ulster, to ensure as far as possible that the future provision of Belfast rapid transit to those key areas is not prejudiced.
My Department has not yet identified the preferred route option for the extension of BRT to serve north Belfast. As with the first phase of BRT, which is being implemented, the route options will be subject to detailed analysis and public consultation. There are a number of potential route options in north Belfast, which include Shore Road, Antrim Road and Crumlin Road. Obviously, the success of a high-frequency and high-occupancy rapid transit system relies on achieving significant patronage levels. Whilst the route has not yet been identified, it appears that, based on current bus patronage levels and the potential for future growth, the Antrim Road is likely to emerge as the preferred option.
A timeline for this is very much dependent on the success of the first phase of the Belfast rapid transit network and available funding for it. However, subject to those caveats, an outline provisional timeline for the extension to north Belfast is as follows. In 2017-18, the options assessment will be prepared. In 2018-19, a business case will be prepared and, following assessment, the first phase will be commenced. In 2019-2020, there will be the detailed design and implementation, and, by 2022-23, I hope that it will be operational.