Final preparations are being put in place to suspend operation of all bus lanes in Liverpool, in a nine-month trial.
The citywide suspension, which is aimed at keeping the city moving, officially begins at 00.01 hrs on Monday 21 October.
All bus lane cameras in the city will be immobilised from this date, and will remain off for the duration of the trial. Variable messaging signs will also be activated across the city to advise motorists that bus lane restrictions are no longer in force.
While works will be on-going to remove signage and mask lane markings until 27 October, the suspension will be officially in place from 21 October, and from this date, motorists who enter bus lanes will not be subject to penalty notices.
Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said: “I have asked for this trial suspension so that we can explore what benefits, if any, bus lanes are bringing to our city. Keeping the city moving for our motorists, businesses, residents, commuters and visitors is absolutely vital, 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.
“Buses remain hugely important to the city, and we will continue to invest in sustainable transport schemes such as our new Car Club and Cycle Hire Schemes. However, we have a commitment to reduce congestion and the harmful emissions associated with this and to keep the city moving.
“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. 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 take a look at this properly.
“It’s important to note that I am keeping an open mind on this. 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.”
The city council will consult fully with stakeholders during the suspension period, with the first six months of the trial giving individuals and organisations the opportunity to make objections and comments.
The plans form part of the Council’s commitment to ensure safe movement of vehicles, improve traffic flow and ensure the city makes the most of its highway network.
A detailed report will be brought back to Cabinet before any final decisions are made. The suspension of the city’s bus lanes will only be made permanent if clear benefits to the city can be demonstrated.
The Council’s on-going monitoring of bus lanes – both directly by officers and through the city’s camera network – has found that a number of the city’s bus lanes are having a major impact on traffic movement during the morning and evening peak periods, in some cases causing significant congestion.
The research has also found that some bus lanes are under-utilised, and that, even at times when bus lane restrictions are not in force, many drivers still do not use them, creating further congestion issues.
The Council will also explore possible alternatives to bus lanes, such as HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes to reduce traffic congestion; and Red Routes, on which vehicles are not permitted to stop, extending to stopping for loading or unloading, and to boarding or alighting from a vehicle (except for licensed taxis and blue badge holders). Red routes are used in other parts of the country on major bus and commuting routes.
The costs associated with removing the bus lanes will be minimal. It will involve the removal of sign faces (retaining the sign poles) and the masking of the existing road markings. This would make the reinstatement of the bus lanes, if necessary, a relatively straightforward process. Bus lane enforcement cameras will be retained but switched off during the trial.
The work to remove bus lane signage and mask lane markings has been planned for half-term week, to minimise disruption.
• 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. In 2005/6, nearly 82% of public transport journeys were made by bus, compared to 78% in 2009/10.
• Conversely, rail patronage is on the increase, with local figures showing that since 2003, Merseyrail has seen a 50% growth in passenger numbers. Despite this rise, there has been no significant drop in the number of vehicle movements across the city.
• Liverpool City Council took the decision in 2011 to consult on and remove a section of bus lane between Stoker Way and Hornby Road, following complaints from motorists and a recognition that the bus lane was having a negative impact on the local retail park.
• As this proposal is only a trial suspension of enforcement, all existing fines will remain collectable, and the city will continue to collect outstanding debt.