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Catch the bus

Still in their infancy in Britain, the performance record of guided bus lanes has led to increasing interest from both operators and local authorities.

The guided bus networks in Leeds and Ipswich increased passenger use by more than 50% in three years, with a further 35% expected in the next three years. Journey times are also significantly reduced, with time savings of 10 minutes from a 25 minute journey achieved in Leeds, and up to 15 minutes on the Ipswich network.

Britpave, the British Insitu Concrete Paving Association, has set up a task group to examine the potential of this practical and cost effective form of public transport. One of the many attractions of guided bus lanes is that they are simple to construct when compared with light rail as well as being cheap, costing approximately £1M per kilometre.

Typically, the lanes consist of two 180mm high kerbs set 2.6m apart, which can contain gaps for pedestrian crossings and road junctions. A standard bus is used with the minor addition of guidewheels set on arms ahead of the front wheels. The arms are fixed to the steering mechanism of the bus, which steer it within the bus lane.

Conventional bus-only lanes have proved in many cases to reduce journey times and increase passenger numbers. However, a major drawback is the need to section off part of an existing road. This can increase congestion on the remaining part of the road open to general traffic, a prime example being the experimental bus lane on the M4. Furthermore, many motorists ignore bus lane restrictions, often rendering them pointless at peak traffic times.

Guided bus lanes have the advantage of being able to use the central reserve between carriageways, land adjacent to existing highways or disused railway lines. This is because the width required is considerably less than that for a conventionally driven bus. The physical barrier of the kerb prevents abuse of the lane in the form of illegal parking and unauthorised use.

Guided buses run on closely defined paths and so must be able to withstand concentrated loading and yet still provide the required ride quality. If the paving material is not of sufficient strength then rutting will inevitably follow. It is also in the best interests of the local authority, operator and user that the whole life costings are low and that maintenance can be undertaken with the minimum disruption to the service.

The only paving material that meets all these criteria is concrete laid insitu, which was used for the Leeds Guided Busway, and is under consideration for the proposed City of Edinburgh Rapid Transit project between the city centre and the airport. Road contractors, particularly on design, build, finance and operate projects, have found concrete to be the ideal material for pavement use, due to its substantial advantage when whole life costs are taken into account.

The technology for laying bus lanes is already tried and tested. The use of slipform pavers, for example, has proved able to cope with the close tolerances required by this mode of transport.

The latest convert to the potential of guided bus lanes is Luton. Well into the planning stage, its ambitious project is set to run from the Queensway in Dunstable town centre, through Luton town centre and on to Luton Airport via Vauxhall and Parkway. It is envisaged that this will make a major contribution to relieving the congestion on roads that have to cater for both a busy airport and a major car manufacturing plant.

Public transport will be to the forefront of government transport policy for the foreseeable future. With their inherent advantages over other forms of transport, particularly in cost and flexibility, guided bus lanes are set to play an increasingly significant role.

In fact, the Government's White Paper on the Future of Transport states: 'The capital cost of light rail systems are high - particularly in comparison to bus priority measures and more modest guided bus schemes which may offer a more cost effective alternative.

Funding for new light rail schemes will therefore not be a priority.' This makes it likely that high-flow corridors that would previously have been earmarked for light rail will now be considered for bus lanes.

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