Bus lanes are set to join bike lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods as the latest target for opponents of government efforts to reduce car dependency and get people to switch to more sustainable forms of travel such as cycling, walking and using public transport – with the Daily Mail adding “bus lane bedlam” to “cycling chaos” in its lexicon of trigger phrases for its readers.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government’s new bus strategy for England outside London – including promising “hundreds of miles of new bus lanes, and with a promise of “more frequent, reliable, easier to use and cheaper bus services.”
The key aspects of the strategy are:
simpler bus fares with daily price caps, so people can use the bus as many times a day as they need without facing mounting costs
more services in the evenings and at the weekends
integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, so people can easily move from bus to train
all buses to accept contactless payments
Hundreds of miles of new bus lanes will make journeys quicker and more reliable, getting people out of their cars, reducing pollution and operating costs.
“Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment,” Mr Johnson said.
“As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling up.
“Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions.
“The fragmented, fully commercialised market, which has operated outside London since 1986, will end,” he added. “We want to see operators and local councils enter into statutory ‘enhanced partnerships’ or franchising agreements to receive the new funding and deliver the improvements.”
The strategy will also encourage cities and regions across the UK to move towards emission-free buses, including ending sales of diesel buses, with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street highlighting that people living in the region are in favour of greener buses.
“Buses are the backbone of public transport in the West Midlands, carrying more than 250 million people every year,” he said, pointing out that the strategy “will enable big city regions such as ours to ensure buses remain at the heart of our future transport plans.
“Residents here want clean, decarbonised buses that are affordable and continue to remain reliable and punctual, and that’s what the new strategy laid out today will deliver,” he added.
The strategy was also welcomed by the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities across the country.
Its transport spokesperson, Darren Rodwell, the Labour leader of London’s Barking & Dagenham Council, said: “We are pleased the Government is investing in improving local bus services, and it is good this strategy recognises the important role of councils.
But he added: “We would urge government to also plug the £700 million annual funding gap councils faced before the pandemic in providing the concessionary fares scheme, which would help to protect local routes and reverse the decline in bus services.”
The use of bus lanes is governed by Highway Code Rule 141, which says:
Bus lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs that indicate which (if any) other vehicles are permitted to use the bus lane. Unless otherwise indicated, you should not drive in a bus lane during its period of operation. You may enter a bus lane to stop, to load or unload where this is not prohibited.
Typically, cyclists are permitted to use bus lanes, as are licensed taxi drivers, although precise rules vary by local authority.
The Daily Mail’s report on the Prime Minister’s announcement came under a headline that left readers in no doubt where the newspaper – which previously opposed the now-removed cycle lane close to its offices on Kensington High Street – stands on the issue,
“Now for bus lane bedlam!,” the headline trumpeted. “After cycling chaos, now Boris Johnson finds £3bn for 'clean, green' revolution to put THOUSANDS more buses on British roads (and keep motorists off them).”
The £3 billion the government is providing, however, was first announced in February last year as part of a £5 billion package for 2020/21-2024/25 that also includes £2 billion for active travel, including cycling and walking.
The newspaper said that “the strategy, which reverses much of Margaret Thatcher’s 1986 deregulation, risks angering motorists, who could face longer journeys” and also highlighted a recent judicial review that found that guidance from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on emergency schemes including cycle lanes and LTNs was “unlawful” (the decision is being appealed).
Perhaps surprisingly, however, the Daily Mail’s headline was not backed up by quotes supporting its headline – quite the opposite, in fact, with Sam Tarry, Labour’s bus minister, and Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, strongly criticising the new strategy for not going far enough to reverse impact of the transport policies of recent decades.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.