Northern Ireland’s public transport provider, Translink, has allowed a private bus service to use its main Belfast station for the first time.
The company has agreed to open the Europa Buscentre to the private operator, Rooney International Coach Hire Ltd, as part a trial exercise.
Translink said the purpose of the pilot scheme was to “test the arrangements of a shared transport facility”.
Rooney International will operate nine services in and out of the bus centre.
Most of the routes, which run from Hilltown, Rostrevor, Warrenpoint and Newry, are pre-existing Rooney International services which had previously picked up and dropped off passengers outside Jury’s Hotel, close to the Europa station.
The family-run firm was established 14 years ago and is based in Hilltown, outside Newry in County Down.
A Translink spokesperson said they had been working with the owner, Eamonn Rooney, and Stormont’s Department for Regional Development (DRD) for the past number of months on the pilot scheme.
“We hope the new arrangements will be of benefit to users of public transport services and look forward to working with Mr Rooney over the course of the pilot,” the spokesperson added.
The DRD’s director of transport projects, Ciarán de Búrca, said there was support for the move from passengers.
“Consultation with users shows support for the idea that Translink bus stations and other facilities, including bus stops, should be made available for the use of other licensed operators.”
He added: “To date, with a few exceptions, Translink stations are used exclusively for its own passengers. Introducing access to Translink stations will help to deliver greater convenience for passengers travelling with other licensed transport operators.”
The DRD said it had advised all licensed public passenger transport operators in Northern Ireland about the pilot, and Mr Rooney was the only one who asked to take part in the the scheme.