Why I’m trialling a suspension of bus lanes

As Mayor of Liverpool, it’s my job to make bold decisions, and push ahead with new ideas which bring benefits to our city and ensure we continue to move forward.

The trial suspension of bus lanes in Liverpool is one such idea.

The nine-month trial began on 21 October, and it’s an initiative which has certainly sparked a great deal of media interest in recent weeks, as well as generating much public debate. And for me, that debate is extremely important.

Liverpool is a rapidly changing city, but we haven’t had a review of bus lanes here for 20 years, so I think the time is right for us to take a proper look at the issue.

Because, ultimately, we do not know whether bus lanes in Liverpool are doing what is intended – namely, helping to alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow; or how bus lanes measure up in importance to things such as fare prices, quality of fleet and frequency of service, in making buses a more attractive form of transport. The data just doesn’t exist.

This trial suspension will allow us to draw down that data over the coming months, gather evidence and fully analyse the impact bus lanes are really having.

As such it will be critical in helping us find out the answers to what are important questions, not only for road users, but for our city as a whole.

Because keeping the city moving for our motorists, businesses, residents, commuters and visitors is absolutely crucial for the future of our city. I want to make sure Liverpool remains a business-friendly, attractive, tourist destination, and an important part of that is ensuring the safe movement of vehicles, improving traffic flow and doing everything we can to make the most of our highway network.

The evidence we do have suggests that bus lanes are not benefiting the city as planned, that they may actually be making congestion (and the associated harmful emissions) worse, and that they are not leading to an increase in bus patronage. Indeed, the Third Local Transport Plan for Merseyside recognised that the overall trend for bus patronage as a proportion of the total public transport journeys across Merseyside was showing a continual decline.

We need to explore all of this further, so we can make an informed decision.

Buses, and all other forms of public transport, remain hugely important to our city. And we will continue to invest in sustainable transport schemes such as our recently launched Car Hire Club, which will help reduce reliance on car ownership and our Cycle Hire Scheme, which launches next year and is set to be the UK’s biggest, outside London.

We are also exploring possible alternatives to bus lanes, such as HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes to reduce traffic congestion; and Red Routes, which are used in other parts of the country on major bus and commuting routes.

It’s important to note that I am keeping an open mind on this. The city council will consult fully with all stakeholders, including bus operators, motorists, and cyclists, throughout the trial suspension, and everyone will have the chance to share their views and to make objections and comments.

At the end of the trial, we will look at all the evidence before making a decision on which, if any, of the bus lanes will be reinstated. No bus lanes will be permanently decommissioned unless we can demonstrate clear benefits to the city in doing so.

Some people have suggested to me that we shouldn’t do this because the bus lanes generate income of £700,000-a-year for the council in fines. But in my view, it would be immoral to treat motorists as a cash cow, and that is why my priority is making sure that we look at this properly, and get it right.

Yes, this is a bold step, but I think it is a necessary one. I’m charged with making difficult decisions which may cause controversy, and which may prove popular with some and unpopular with others. But without making these types of decisions, and taking these types of steps, cities cannot change and evolve as they need to.

In nine months’ time, we will know a lot more about the future of bus lanes in Liverpool. But ultimately, any decision I make on this issue will be made, as ever, with the good of our city at its heart.