New Clause 10

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motorcycles in bus lanes

‘All bus lanes in the adjacent vehicle lane shall be open to use by motorcycles when buses are moving in the same direction as traffic.'. —[Mr. Paterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mrs. Anderson. Sir Nicholas was in the Chair and bursting with testosterone after the Easter break. I hope that you are similarly revived.

The Minister and I attended a meeting of the all-party group on motorcycling yesterday and there was agreement on the new clause, which simply proposes that all bus lanes should be open to motorcycles as long as they move in the same direction. I shall be brief because I am conscious of the time and also of the blood pressure of the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy). I shall not plough through the large report published by Transport for London on the interim results.

The bones of the report are that there is convincing evidence that the use of bus lanes by motorcycles reduces the vulnerability of motorcyclists without affecting the vulnerability of other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. It is common sense to move motorcycles away from other road vehicles such as lorries, heavy goods vehicles and so on—not mixing traffic seems to work. Motorcyclists would be more visible to other road users, and lack of visibility is often cited as the cause of accidents. I can find no studies that indicate that the risk to cyclists and pedestrians increased when motorcycles were allowed access to bus lanes.

Motorcycles pollute less on any given commuter journey because they do not get stuck in traffic and sit with their engines idling. They do not contribute to traffic congestion, as they keep moving. Allowing them into bus lanes recognises that they are an important part of commuter transport, which I believe reflects the Government’s motorcycle strategy to promote them as a mainstream transport activity.

It is interesting to note that motor cycles in bus lanes do not slow up buses. The buses set the speed, and, as a result, motor cyclists tend not to speed. None of the local authorities that have allowed motor cycles to use bus lanes have reported safety problems, and the evidence in the Transport for London report is that there was an 8 per cent. reduction in powered two-wheeler collisions on the A23 and a 31 per cent. reduction on the A41. If we combine those figures—as  a scientist, the Minister will agree with this—that is a 19 per cent. reduction in all PTW collisions. The reduction of such collisions in the control areas was0 per cent.

The Minister said on Tuesday that such a provision would be redundant because local authorities can already allow motor bikes to use bus lanes. The problem is that more oomph is needed to promote such change. The new clause would provide that oomph.

Some authorities allow motor cycles to use some bus lanes. In Bristol, the policy is city-wide, and there have been no problems. In South Gloucestershire, it covers the whole local authority area, and there have been no problems. In North Somerset, the policy again covers the whole local authority area, and there have been no problems. In Peterborough, it relates to one bus lane, and there have been no problems. In Hull, there is a trial involving one lane, and there have been no problems. In Swindon, the policy covers the whole borough, and there have been no problems so far. In Reading, all the bus lanes in the borough are covered and the problems that were expected by cyclists have not materialised. In Essex, the policy is county-wide, and there have been no problems. In Derby, where the policy applies to Nottingham and Uttoxeter New roads, there have not been any problems. In Kingston upon Thames, half the bus lanes in the borough are covered by it, and there have been no problems so far. In Sheffield, one bus lane is open to motor cyclists, but there will be two next year, and there have been no problems. In Richmond upon Thames, motor cycles are allowed to use three bus lanes, and there have been no problems. In Westminster, motor cycles can use eight bus lanes out of a proposed nine, and there have been no safety problems. That brief summary indicates that the measure does work.

The Minister will tell us that giving motor cycles access to bus lanes is allowed by legislation and is subject to local government decision. My contention is that this is a major safety measure. Also, it is a pity that part of our road capacity is underused—buses do not use the capacity the whole time. This common-sense new clause would allow all motor cyclists to use all bus lanes immediately, rather than wait for decision making by local governments. Until yesterday, I did not realise that local authorities had discretion on this.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Llafur, Bolton South East 9:45, 20 Ebrill 2006

I am mandated to speak on the new clause by my office manager. If I were not to speak on it, I would not get the same excellent service that I have always had from her. She is a biker, and she has lobbied me on this matter continuously since I was elected to Parliament in 1997.

The main reason I support the new clause is that there is complete inconsistency across the country, as exemplified by the comments by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). We must seriously consider the use of bus lanes. For example, there are bus lanes on two parallel arterial roads into Bolton town centre. Motorists can travel on one of them outside peak hours but not on the other. For a motorist entering the town for the first time, it is complete confusion. They must read the signs very carefully, but, frankly, that is not easy in congested traffic.

The same argument applies to other vehicles using bus lanes. It is necessary to review how bus lanes are used across the country. In some authorities, taxis can use bus lanes; in others, they cannot. I am arguing for consistency in the use of bus lanes, which is currently confusing not only for bikers but for other vehicle users.

With the imposition of the congestion charge in London—it will no doubt come in in other cities—there has been a huge increase in the use of motor cycles, exemplified by the sales of them across the land. I occasionally drive in London, and it is frankly terrifying to see the way in which not only motor cyclists but cyclists zip in and out of the traffic. That must undoubtedly lead to collisions. I do not have any statistics and I have not studied the subject, but it is common sense to reach that conclusion. I therefore support the idea of allowing all motor cyclists to use bus lanes. I would go even further and impose on them the requirement to use bus lanes, to stop them going in and out between other vehicles, as we see in such an exaggerated way in our capital.

I hope that, even if the Minister urges us not to support the new clause, he will take our views back to his Department so that we can examine and rationalise the use of bus lanes.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Member for North Shropshire alluded to the fact that he and I were at a meeting of the all-party group on motorcycling yesterday. I made it clear, and reiterate for the record, that I have seen no evidence that there is any negative safety impact of motor cycles using bus lanes. Indeed, I see positive benefits to it, because as part of our national motor cycling strategy we want to make motor cycling mainstream. We see it as one way in which we can help to relieve congestion and improve social mobility, as long as we can do so while maintaining the safety of motor cyclists and other road users. Motor cycles using bus lanes would contribute to that.

Motor cycles should not be able to use every bus lane in the country, as the new clause would require them to do. I draw the line at that. I suspect that there will be some bus lanes that, because of their construction and the way in which they are commonly used in their local environment, will not be suitable for motor cycles and therefore need to be restricted to buses. Those lanes will be exceptional cases in one or two places where the local authority has a good reason not to want motor cycles in a bus lane. However, in 99 per cent. of cases I do not see any disadvantage in a motor cycle using a bus lane. Local authorities have the power to allow that to happen. It is entirely at their discretion.

I shall go on to explain how we have reached a situation whereby most bus lanes exclude motor cyclists. I want the Committee to realise that I believe that most bus lanes are suitable for the use of motor cycles.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I have been pleased to hear what the Minister has said so far, but will he put his money where his mouth is? Local authorities may indeed have discretion, but his Department should give guidance  that unless there are circumstances in which it would be unsafe, as he alluded to, the default position should be that motor cyclists can use bus lanes. Will he consider changing his Department’s guidance to that effect?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The right hon. Gentleman brings me to the point that I was going to make about how we have ended up in this position. In 1997, when the document “Keeping Buses Moving”, which described the construction of bus lanes, was produced, it said that motor cycles should not normally use bus lanes. I was not involved in the production of that document, and I do not know the rationale for that. There may have been a perception that there was a threat to pedestrians from motor cycles in bus lanes, and that may have been why the recommendation was included.

To me, it would have been more obvious to point out that the people who should not be in bus lanes are pedestrians. Pedestrians should be on the pavement, not walking over bus lanes. If they do cross a bus lane, they need to take the same care as they are expected to take when crossing any road. That requires them to be alive to the possibility that not only buses but motor cycles might be in the bus lane. Nevertheless, we are discussing the position that was established in 1997, and the guidance on the Department’s website reflects that.

Since then, we have carried out a number of experiments and some local authorities have used their discretion. I understand that that discretion is used in Bristol and Birmingham. Indeed, it is used in respect of the most high-profile bus lanes for which the Department for Transport has responsibility—the M4 bus lane allows motor cycles—so we have shown that we believe that motor cycles ought to be allowed in bus lanes.

That discretion is being used in London for an experiment. It was due to finish last year, but the statisticians believed that sufficient data on accidents had not been accumulated for them to be able to draw clear conclusions, so it was recommended that it continue. As the hon. Member for North Shropshire said, however, the interim report shows that there is no evidence of a safety problem. In my view, the report is sufficiently convincing that we should start moving to a position whereby we remind local authorities that they have discretion, and I have taken steps to do that.

Assuming that there is no major change to the outcome of the experiment, I give a commitment that I will ensure that the guidance on the Department’s website is completely rewritten as soon as the experiment is finished, so that it is clear that there appears to be no safety risk in allowing motor cycles in bus lanes. In the meantime, we shall take steps to remind local authorities that they have that discretion.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

If the situation is as the Minister says and in 99 per cent. of cases it would be perfectly acceptable to allow motor cycles in bus lanes, would it not be more appropriate to give local authorities the power to exclude motor cycles from certain bus lanes if they thought that the safety case for that had been made, rather than giving them a power to allow motor cycles in bus lanes?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

That is the current position: local authorities have the power to exclude and the power to allow motor cycles in bus lanes. Originally, the Government guidance asked them to take the view that, normally, motor cycles would not be allowed in bus lanes. My view is that, as soon as we have the final data to confirm that allowing them in bus lanes is appropriate, we are likely to change the guidance to say that normally they should be allowed in.

However, there might still be one or two circumstances in which local authorities want to exclude motor cycles from bus lanes. For example, it might be inappropriate for motor cycles to be allowed in a bus lane leading directly to a bus station. It might be appropriate to be very strict about who is allowed in bus lanes in roads around schools, because of the way in which the roads are engineered and the layout of the roads and because of how the children—kids being kids—are likely to behave when getting off school buses. A local authority might want to exclude motor cycles from bus lanes in those areas, but my view is that, by and large, local authorities should be using their discretion to allow motor cycles in the vast majority of bus lanes, and we need to work to change the guidance to reflect that.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister makes a sensible point: it might not be appropriate to allow motor bikes in bus lanes near schools and so on. However, the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) made a good point, too: the inconsistency is muddling for motorbike riders. A consensus seems to be emerging between my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that it would be better for it to be the general rule throughout the country that all bus lanes are open, unless a bus lane is clearly marked as an exception. That would be much easier for motor bike riders to understand; it is a response to the point about muddle and inconsistency.

I am encouraged by the Minister’s comments, and this is a probing new clause, but when he puts statements on the website, would it not be better to switch the presumption? The presumption should be that motor cycles are allowed in bus lanes unless a bus lane is near a school, a bus depot or whatever. Those are perfectly sensible exceptions and they should be clearly marked.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 10:00, 20 Ebrill 2006

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I can see a practical advantage in what he suggests. At present it would be necessary for all the local authorities around the country to get out little pots of paint and put little motor cycle signs on everything to say that motor cycles are now allowed in. If excluding motor cycles is to become exceptional, it would be much cheaper to say that they are allowed unless there is a sign with a motor cycle with a red line through it. It would be much easier to identify that. I will certainly take that on board as we prepare the new guidance based on the outcome of the experiment.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Llafur, Bolton South East

My point is the same. The lack of consistency across the country on the usage of bus  lanes by all vehicles, not just motor cycles, causes confusion. When a driver is entering a very busy town, paying attention to the movement of traffic in front of him is often more important than observing the signs approaching a bus lane. I find it difficult to read the signs on the usage of bus lanes for that reason. The consistency argument is very important.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend is saying, not just in respect of motor cycles but in respect of all users of bus lanes. I find it incredibly confusing in London that some bus lanes are 7 till 7 while others are 7 till 10, 4 till 7 and 24-hour. Once a driver has missed the first sign at the beginning of the bus lane—his mind may have been on avoiding a traffic hazard—he has no idea whether the bus lane alongside him is empty at 8 o’clock at night because it is a 24-hour bus lane or because all the other drivers have also missed the sign and do not realise that they are allowed to use it. I would be interested in looking for some consistency and greater clarity in signing.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

We are having an interesting debate. My view is that we should never have 24-hour bus lanes when we do not have 24-hour buses. When in 2007 will the report conclude its work? Will the Minister give us a commitment that when he changes the guidance he will let us know by way of a written parliamentary statement?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will certainly make a statement when we change the guidance. My understanding is that the full data should be available this summer, so we do not have to wait much longer until we can carry out the analysis. I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point that there should not be 24-hour bus lanes when there are not 24-hour buses, although I am happy to say that there are 24-hour buses in London. There are night buses. I now have the benefit of a ministerial car to get me home to my flat, but before I became a Minister I occasionally had to take the night bus. It was rather like one of the Quentin Tarantino vampire films; I would wonder whether I was the only person who was not about to turn into a werewolf. Nevertheless, we have 24-hour buses in London and they should be able to run congestion-free where appropriate. That is a matter for local authorities.

I hope that the hon. Member for North Shropshire will be prepared to withdraw his new clause, given my assurances, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East will explain to his assistant that I am entirely committed to her cause. I perhaps cannot move as fast as she would want me to, but I am determined to ensure that she can use bus lanes at some point in the very near future.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am very encouraged by the Minister’s comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.