Two transport deals got underway in Manchester this month. Work to deliver a major bus priority route between Salford and Manchester, and a deal with China to build a £650 million ‘Airport City’ transport hub. Meanwhile, in Liverpool, we’re putting busses in the slow lane. Could two cities’ outlooks be any more polarised?

And so the big experiment is underway. Liverpool is making it just that little bit more difficult for us to use public transport – at a time when study after study shows bus lanes to be a catalyst for urban regeneration, we’re shoving things into reverse…

The US based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has, this week,
published its latest analysis of mass transit movement across key urban corridors.

Its findings? According to this post in Wired: the bus won out big time in terms of generating high-value development at a low upfront cost.

New investments along bus route corridors leveraged more than a billion dollars in development, according to the Institute’s Director for the U.S. and Africa, Annie Weinstock. The bus lanes have brought new businesses, stable communities and an increase in house prices: all things we could do with a bit more of around here. Especially in those areas of the city where car ownership amounts to just 46% of households, and where – according to the last census results – population is decreasing. So much for north Liverpool rising again.

As an example, Forbes mentions Cleveland’s Healthline, a dedicated bus lane project completed on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue in 2008, which has generated $5.8 billion in development —$114 for each dollar invested. Portland’s Blue Line, a light rail project completed in 1986, generated $3.74 per dollar invested.

The big experiment flies in the face of every piece of current transport thinking – namely that the more kilometres of road available, the more cars take to the roads. It’s something called the ‘fundamental law of road congestion’ and it’s something that’s been arrived at not by a snap judgement, but by years of quantitative data capture. Evidence.

“A commonly suggested response to traffic congestion—expansions of the road network—does not appear to have their desired effect,” says Resources for the Future, about the Law, “road expansions should not be expected to reduce congestion. Reductions in travel time caused by an average highway expansion are not sufficient to justify the expense of such an expansion.”

Quite simply, the more road space you supply, the more traffic uses it. It’s something known as induced demand – and it’s been documented since, ooh, 1969.

One of the reasons Joe cites for bringing in the nine month experiment is a drop in bus passenger numbers. Reason, one would have thought, to work harder to encourage us all to consider public transport, and to make the prospect more enticing.

According to Joe “bus lanes simply don’t work“. “We have looked at it over six to seven months and we feel it makes no improvement to the traffic flow in the city,” he says. Note the word ‘feel’. Not especially scientific, is it? Here’s some science from a transport planner employed by forward-thinking cities across the UK. bus-660x438

“When a bus lane is put in, the queue length is observed to increase. This is simply because one of the lanes which the queue was spread across has now been removed. As long as the queue doesn’t stretch back across a previous junction, there is no ill effects due to the implementation of the bus lane,” he says. “It’s all about getting the bus lanes right. If this condition is reached, then the bus lane will not reduce the capacity of the road, nor will it increase congestion. A bus lane is just a smart way of improving bus journeys at no cost to car drivers, indeed, encouraging car drivers to leave the car at home and take the bus improves the congestion for everyone.”

And so how is Liverpool’s great bus lane experiment to be monitored? We spoke to the council, but there was no real answer. “It’s not an exact science,” they say, adding that the trial will be a mix of ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ assessment: with a steering group consisting of the Green Party’s John Coyne (who’s called the plan ‘crass’) and members of Arriva, Stagecoach, and city cycling forums. Data will be collected – passenger numbers on busses assessed (but what will a decrease mean? The experiment’s working? Or it’s not working, because bus times are longer? No-one seems to be too sure) and average journey times crunched. But, as the council admits, a lot of these findings’ interpretation will be ‘subjective’. Shouldn’t our traffic management be a bit smarter than this?

“Car culture is the biggest thing that needs to change,” says Krista Kline, employed by the City of Los Angeles to spearhead sustainability, and to keep the city moving. “People are realising that if we want a better quality of life, we need to take the bus more. Local entities need to work together. We need to walk more, use mass transit more, and be better connected. Los Angeles is moving to a cleaner, less car-reliant model not just because it’s healthier, but because smart cities know that’s where industry and investment is heading. Smart cities need to be based on future industries, not the old models of the past,” she adds.

For their part, Arriva claim the council lack of consultation prior to today’s big switch off: “The bus operators have had no involvement in the process for implementing a trial of withdrawing bus lanes and have been given no evidence from Liverpool City Council to justify such a trial,” says Arriva Howard Farrall, Area Managing Director, Arriva Merseyside. Joe says he’s met with them twice, and facilitated a further two meetings between his office and the bus companies.

“We have said repeatedly that we would welcome any review of the effectiveness of bus lanes and would be prepared to work with Liverpool City Council and other stakeholders. However, they have not invited any participation until now and, given that they have gone ahead with the decision to suspend the bus lanes with effect from 28th October, it is evident that whatever our views, they will be disregarded,” Farrall says.

“Keeping the city moving for our motorists, businesses, residents, commuters and visitors is absolutely vital,” says Joe, “so it’s important we take a proper look at this. While we don’t have extensive data, the evidence we do have suggests that bus lanes are not benefiting the city as planned, that they are not leading to an increase in bus usage, and that they may actually be making congestion worse. This trial is about getting the data we need so we can make an informed decision over this important issue which we know is a major source of frustration for motorists.”

Joe says he’s keeping an open mind on the matter, and that the trial can be stopped, or amended, at any time. “The suspension of the city’s bus lanes will only be made permanent if clear benefits to the city can be demonstrated,” he says.

SevenStreets sees public transport investment vital to the smooth, safe and healthy running of any modern metropolis. At a time when the world’s most forward-thinking cities are investing in BRT (Bus Rapid Transit – see above) systems, increased light rail and tram, we see this as a worryingly retrograde step, taken without the benefit of, y’know, science. Seemingly on a whim, the city centre movement strategy, designed to keep cars round the edge of the city, has been upended.

The results will, no-doubt, please motorists. When he was elected, one of Joe’s five central ambitions was to make Liverpool a world centre for green technology. Joe, looks like you’ve missed the bus…

(thanks @samuelhayes for the Manchester bus tip)

21 Responses to “The Great Bus Lane Experiment”

  1. John Meadowcroft

    Here’s one, I’m looking to get a car – even though I know it’ll likely bankrupt me – because public transport in Liverpool is so bloody foul.

    A shame because in Manchester and Europe I don’t have a problem paying to use a clean tram that’s always available and gets me to a huge variety of destinations for a small fee. It all adds up and I know the money’s going toward something useful.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen if I pay for a Merseyrail ticket, though, for instance. More often than not on a return journey the Wirral line’s off and passengers are shoved on an overcrowded bus for the benefit of waiting at Birkenhead North for well over an hour.

    Bus prices are rising, too. None of that is a bus lane’s fault; a dedicated lane designed to get you somewhere faster and not make people spend hours on a route that goes here, there, and bloody everywhere.

    This whole thing’s ridiculous. Instead of building from the bottom the council always appears to act like a useless clot in the city’s veins.

  2. “More often than not on a return journey the Wirral line’s off and passengers are shoved on an overcrowded bus”

    More often than not? So you’re saying that 3 out of 5 trains are canceled or delayed on the highest performing local rail network in the UK? That’s just not true. Be realistic.

    I agree with you about buses in Liverpool and outlying areas, but trains in Liverpool are spot on and I’m very happy with four trains an hour to most places in and around the city.

  3. Mike Homfray

    The point is that anyone with half a brain would have done a pilot study on, say, a couple of the routes, first
    Just getting rid of them on a ‘feeling’ is a mistake

  4. John Meadowcroft

    No I’m not giving that ratio at all, I’m saying that from experience. The New Brighton line on Sunday was off all day, for instance, due to some fault or another while there was also a problem with the Wirral line today.

    But that’s not the point. The point is – as Dave’s so eloquently put – is that the council is clueless when it comes to public transport.

    “We have said repeatedly that we would welcome any review of the effectiveness of bus lanes and would be prepared to work with Liverpool City Council and other stakeholders. However, they have not invited any participation until now and, given that they have gone ahead with the decision to suspend the bus lanes with effect from 28th October, it is evident that whatever our views, they will be disregarded,” Farrall says.

    That paragraph says it all.

  5. Carl Ryan

    The management of the roads and pavement in this city is a disgrace. There doesnt seem to be any overall plan to manage, improve and combine the different aspects of travel. Pavements are like an obstacle course with forests of street lights, road signs and bus stops blocking the way. Slapping some red paint on the roads and calling them bus and cycle lanes was an expensive waste and no doubt an insult to cyclists. I think the council must have employed monkeys when thinking where to put the cycle lanes in. The city needs serious work to be done to improve the lives of pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and users of public transport. It really shouldnt be as hard as they seem to make it.

  6. Theres no draw to use public transport as the price of getting the bus is ridiculous. A round trip for 2 people is over £8. Why would you subject yourself to having to get on one of the awful buses in Liverpool for that price, when you can park up and travel at your leisure for less?

  7. Shagpuss

    Merseytravel are very concerned about Anderson’s brainstorm too, and are doing their own research into how bus reliability will be affected. Bus lanes should be expanded where appropriate. Cycle lanes too should be properly segregated, not just pointless red lines that most cars ignore anyway.

    The main problem with the cost of bus tickets is that they’re private companies. Their first priority is to their shareholders, not the people of Merseyside. They only run where and when they can make money. A lot of people moan [including on these pages] about the cost of a bus ticket, but unless you address the ownership issue, then keep quiet. You’re just moaning for moaning’s sake. Buses should be taken back into municipal ownership like they were until 1986. Then we can hold people like Anderson directly responsible for them.

  8. JD Moran

    Having glanced down Wavertree High Street at 7:45 this morning, I can only assume that not many people are aware of the lifting of restrictions or there is a boycott going on and people are carrying on as normal out of protest.

  9. John Walker

    So much for democracy! Joe has steam-rollered over Merseytravel (revenge for the numerous scandals whilst making them impotent at the same time?). One man having so much power is not the way to run Liverpool. Just because he drives along Prescot Rd from Old Swan and hates seeing buses / taxis pass on his inside whilst queuing, or worse still one of his relatives has difficulties filtering into a bus lane after a protective bus lane camera (then introduce a bus gate to remove the problem..), does not justify a wholesale removal of lanes. Neither will it increase the commerce of streets with bus lanes present to reduce the number of shuttered up shop frontage. Joe you are short on the grey matter mate aint you..

    Certain lanes were part funded by EU funds with a 25-year condition (recall the cruise liner pontoon costing £20m and the Council paying back £8.9m?) – so come on Joe, how much will you have to payback this time?

    Regarding the city centre, before CCMS / directional signage to car parks etc was introduced, drivers headed through the city (Renshaw, Mount Pleasant, Brownlow etc) to reach Lime St and St.Johns Lane before ALWAYS queuing round Haymarket to reach the Kingsway Tunnel. This resulted in severe congestion and many entry / exit delays for buses using Queens Square stops. Returning to this will increase bus fuel inefficiency as well as impacting on city air pollution, congestion, journey times etc – but crucially making buses more inefficient will result in increased fuel costs being passed onto bus users. So thanks Joe for inadvertantly putting up bus fares you muppet.

  10. Joe says the council needs to save money (reference the fortnightly bin service we will be getting).
    Fair do’s. But where is the money saving in removing all the bus lane signs, cameras and road markings? If its not happened around your way, it will soon. Old Swan, Prescot Road already done. Then if the “experiment” fails (which it should), WE will have to pay contractors to re-install everything. More wasted money. But richer contractors.
    Backhanders anyone???

  11. Absolutely! Converting the bus lanes into cycle lanes would save money, that way we could keep most of the infrastructure. Dedicated cycle lanes mean that the comparatively large percentage of people who don’t own cars could get around legally and safely. We would lead the UK in becoming the first truly cycle friendly city and be placed up there with the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen as having the best standards of living in Europe. Read any business or city magazine and you will see that cycling as a major form of transport is a defining characteristic of a thriving up-and-coming city where businesses and people scramble to relocate to.

  12. YorkshirePudding

    If people just read the restriction signs then after the rush hour people could use the bus lane, e.g. i drive up park road a lot and im usually the only person using the bus lane outside of the restriction time, are people just daft? I’m a car person but i dont think this will help anyone out, the bus lanes will probably go back after the 9 months, now if people just read the damn signs after that….

  13. James Woods

    I live on Rice Lane and the area has been greatly improved by scrapping the bus lane, when the bus lane was active every night there was a traffic jam from walton vale to walton hospital spewing out the noxious fumes that these bus lanes where supposed to lessen.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.