Transport for London (TfL) has today set out plans to extend the hours of bus lanes on its roads in London to reflect a customer shift away from peak hours, helping ensure London’s sustainable recovery from the pandemic.
As London recovers from coronavirus, there is an increasing need to provide more safe space for people to use active, sustainable and socially distanced modes of travel. Even with current capacity restrictions due to social distancing, a single decker bus can carry ten times the average occupancy of a car yet only uses twice the amount of road space. Extending bus lane operating hours will help guard against a damaging car-led recovery by improving bus journey times and safety for Londoners making journeys by public transport and the increasing proportion travelling by bike.
Before the pandemic, in 2018/19, 1.15 billion journeys were made on the bus routes that will now benefit from the proposed changes. The changes reflect a current customer shift away from travel at ‘normal’ peak hours with demand now spreading throughout the day, and follow recent extensions to bus lane hours that have seen improvements to reliability in line with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.
The trial will start in late summer and will make bus journeys quicker throughout the day as 24 hour bus lanes will reduce the impact of any congestion on buses. They will also be more consistent, with journeys taking a similar amount of time, irrespective of the time of day. This will make it easier for Londoners to follow the Government’s advice to travel outside peak times where possible. Customers will be able to more accurately plan their journeys, and greater service reliability will also prevent large queues forming at bus stops, making social distancing easier.
Existing access for bikes, taxis and motorcycles will be retained, while designated disabled parking bays, Blue Badge parking facilities and most loading bays will also be retained in the trial.
Extending bus lane hours will support the Mayor and TfL’s world leading Streetspace for London programme, which is rapidly delivering more space for people to walk and cycle. The new 24-hour corridors will provide much needed new space for cyclists away from general traffic. Reducing bus congestion will also help make walking and cycling more attractive ways to get around our city as it will free up space and improve air quality.
Claire Mann, Director of Bus Operations, at TfL, said: “This pandemic has changed the way we all live, work and travel. For that reason, we need to adapt our network, be flexible and continue to help people travel safely and reliably as London gets back on its feet.
“The proposed changes to the operational hours of bus lanes will have significant benefits for bus passengers and people cycling beyond the current hours of operation, many of which were introduced years ago in a very different situation. We will carefully consider all feedback to ensure the trial has the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people and supports London’s recovery from coronavirus.”
Making bus journey times faster and more reliable is one part of TfL’s approach to the city’s recovery from coronavirus. TfL has been working with local authorities to introduce the Mayor’s Streetspace programme, which is creating more space for people to walk and cycle while ensuring that people who need to travel by public transport can do so safely, quickly and reliably. The scheme has seen £55m of investment so far and more than 800 schemes approved across all 33 boroughs. This includes work to create a new temporary cycle lane on Euston Road, following recent construction of major new lanes along Park Lane in central London.
TfL has also introduced a huge range of rigorous cleaning and hygiene practices across the transport network to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. This includes all regular ‘touch point’ areas such as poles and doors being wiped down with a strong disinfectant every day, and the use of additional hospital-grade cleaning substances.
Other safety measures include the mandatory wearing of face coverings over the nose and mouth for the entire journey, unless an exemption applies. Customers must not remove masks mid-journey, and the police and TfL’s enforcement officers are patrolling the transport network to ensure everyone follows the rules, which are needed to help control the spread of the virus. Already more than 33,000 people have been stopped from travelling until they put on a face covering.
TfL has set out some simple tips to help everyone travel safely as customers continue to return to the network in larger numbers. These include:
* When planning journeys try travelling outside of TfL’s busier periods between 05:45-08:15 and 16:00-17:30 on weekdays. There is more available capacity outside of those times.
* Wear a face covering. It is now mandatory to wear one that covers both nose and mouth for whole journeys, including in stations, unless exempt. These must not be removed mid-journey.
* Stay alert to the latest Government advice. This includes walking or cycling all or part of journeys if possible
* Wash or sanitise hands at the beginning and at the end of journeys and carry hand sanitiser if possible. A thousand hand sanitiser stations have been installed across the transport network.
* Follow the capacity limits on buses, which allow no more than 30 passengers on double decks and 11 or 14 on single decks, depending on bus size. Drivers may allow more passengers at their discretion, in particular for family groups.
* Where possible, sit next to and open bus windows for better ventilation, and space out across the bus as much as possible, making use of the upper deck on double decker buses.
Throughout the trial, which will last a minimum of six months, TfL will seek feedback from passenger representative groups, the business sector, accessibility and inclusion groups, as well as road safety and road user groups. TfL will also be engaging with London TravelWatch, who has been campaigning for an extension to bus lane hours. Members of the public will also be invited to feed back on the changes.
Tim Bellenger, Director of Policy and Investigation at London TravelWatch, said: “Bus passengers will welcome this initiative to improve bus speeds, reduce journey times and improve service reliability. This is something that London TravelWatch has called for over a number of years, most recently in our recent Mayoral transport priorities. We look forward to working with TfL as they progress this work.”
A decision on making the trial permanent will be subject to a review of its operation, data on bus journey times, the safety of people using the bus lanes and other road users, as well as impact on those protected under the Equality Act 2010.