The end of the road for Liverpool's bus lanes

posted 26 Oct 2014, 06:57 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 27 Oct 2014, 06:44 ]

October 24th 2014

Liverpool City Council has today agreed to the permanent discontinuation of the majority of the bus lanes in Liverpool.

Readers of Hobby Horses and Rants will recall that we commented on Lord Mayor Joe Anderson’s decision in October 2013 to suspend all 26 bus lanes across the City of Liverpool pending an 8 month review of their effectiveness. In July this year, this suspension was extended to allow more time for data collection and evaluation.

In a comprehensive 500+ page report, consultant Mott McDonald has reviewed each of the bus lanes and analysed before and after journey data, to reach a number of conclusions.

The report concluded that on 13 of 21 routes, buses were slower, after the removal of the bus lanes, with the biggest increase of up to one minute on a section of Picton Road. On six routes, both cars and buses saw their trips get longer.

This report has focussed, largely, on the effects of the bus lanes on journey times for both buses and other traffic. But, is journey time reduction the principal function of bus lanes? Don't bus lanes also help to regularise journey times, too? 

More importantly, to me, the report found that bus journey times were found to be more variable on 13 of the 24 bus lane sections, including an increase in journey time variability of 70% on the Kensington section of the A57 route into Liverpool City Centre. The report identified increases in bus service unreliability of 15% on the Wavertree Road corridor and 20% on the Prescot Road corridor.

Variability in journey time makes it very difficult for bus operators to maintain schedules – especially if the space to take layover to regulate the timetable is squeezed out at the end of the route - and the traffic commissioner is peering out of the "window of tolerance"! It also annoys passengers far more than a few extra seconds on their journey.

Overall, I am not convinced that the report does actually make the case for the permanent removal of the bus lanes. Indeed, it specifically highlights a number of other factors which affect traffic flow on the main corridors into the City:

  • Obstructive parking / loading along the corridor;

  • Buses pulling in at lay-by stops being unable to move back onto the main carriageway, adding further delay;

  • Reduced traffic signal times failing to provide enough time for buses to get through the junction;

  • Obstructive on-street parking and loading in local centres;

  • Turning traffic blocking through movements; and

  • Congestion at pinch points.

These are not new and plague the flow of traffic in every town and City. The Mott MacDonald report notes that :

“These initiatives focus on addressing key transport issues along the corridor, to the benefit of all users whilst also promoting consistent journey times for buses. It should be noted that these measures are concept only at this stage and will require further detailed investigation and consultation before any preferred arrangement is selected.”

This is fundamentally correct, and these are the issues which the Council should be focussing on.

As the report to City Council Cabinet notes that “The City (and Merseytravel) have procured Mott Macdonald to undertake a Strategic Transport Plan to review all modes and their routes in the City. This work will conclude in February 2015 and will result in a set of recommendations to:

  • Shape the future transport needs of the City

  • Forecast future demand for all modes of travel

  • Improved gateway routes, Public Realm and pedestrianisation

  • Improve all public transport infrastructure

Given all this, isn’t it premature to discount bus lane priority measures, before the strategy has been determined? 

Despite Mayor Anderson’s comment that  We are not committing to this being a final process. It will be reviewed regularly, and if it’s not working, we’ll change it back”, it is clear where his priorities lie, when he says, “But these companies make a lot of money, and need to consider investing in conductors at peak times. It would seriously improve bus traffic - they need to look at themselves.”

Laughably, the City Council Cabinet report notes that “The proposals outlined within this report will support a number of the Council’s Corporate Aims as follows:

We will make Liverpool the preferred choice for investment and job creation.

The improvement of traffic flow on the City’s highway network, and a reduction in congestion levels along some key routes across the City will make Liverpool more attractive to existing and new businesses, therefore promoting investment and job creation.

We will empower people to enjoy the best possible quality of life and reach their full potential.

With its aim of improving traffic movements, the network changes will support regeneration and development, helping to bring economic benefits and improve quality of life for residents.

We will make Liverpool a more sustainable, connected and attractive city.

The changes will help to maintain the flow of traffic on key routes within the City. Improved access to business and development sites will make Liverpool a more attractive proposition for developers, businesses and new business start-ups.

We will build strong, attractive and accessible neighbourhoods.

Easing congestion and traffic flows promotes accessibility across the city and promotes development, helping to attract investment that will improve neighbourhoods.

We will ensure services are efficient, effective and offer value for money.

The monitoring and analysis of the effectiveness of bus lanes has helped to identify measures to help LCC ensure that road space can be effectively allocated to maximise the level of service provided by the highway network and get best use from the Council’s assets for the benefit of highway users.

The same statements would actually hold true, if the City Council was proposing a pro-bus transport strategy, which supported sustainable development!

(Oh, and by the way, people, it’s not a “Castle kerb”. I think you mean a Kassel kerb?!)