Britain’s roads have given priority to buses for more than 40 years, through everything from bus-only gates to lengths of bus lane on busy roads. For passengers, these measures are a godsend, making it much easier for bus companies to provide quick and reliable journeys.
But not everybody agrees. Liverpool City Council recently abandoned all but four of its 26 bus lanes; and other UK cities are reported to be considering following Liverpool’s lead. In Belfast, ex-mayors have queued up to show support for a change in the system after reports of traffic bottlenecks and bus lanes lying empty.
Yet removing bus lanes entirely could be a recipe for disaster. “Freeing” important corridors for all traffic will only entice more cars into already congested town and city centres, which will adversely affect the environment and character of these places. A modern double-deck bus offers more than 70 seats, in a vehicle with a footprint little larger than three or four cars – cars that, at peak times, often only have a single occupant. It makes sense that the bus passengers should enjoy some sort of advantage.
There’s room for improvement, however, in the implementation of the lanes themselves. Bus lanes tend to be most valuable at weekday peak hours – yet some of Britain’s cities have opted for 24-hour lanes in an attempt to encourage public transport use and restrict car movements. Equally, bus lanes don’t have to cover entire routes – often, a tiny stretch of bus priority at a pinch-point can give buses an advantage over other traffic.