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Controversial bus lane scrapped

The controversial bus lane on one of London’s key motorway routes will be scrapped later this year, the government confirmed this week.

The restrictions on the use of the 5.6km bus lane on the M4, which operates on the London-bound carriageway from near Heathrow Airport, will be lifted from 24 December. Work to remove the lane will start from November and has been reported as costing up to £400,000.

Transport secretary Philip Hammond said that the lane will then be open to all traffic until June 2012. At that time it will become part of the Olympic Route Network for the London Games, providing athletes with dedicated links between London and Heathrow. After this, the government’s intention is to remove it permanently.

Currently, the lane can only be used by buses, licensed black taxis and motorcycles but Hammond said analysis showed that journey times at peak periods would be reduced for car drivers and hauliers by removing the lane, without significantly affecting vehicles currently using it.

It gained notoriety soon after it opened in 1999 when then prime minister Tony Blair used it to avoid the M4’s lengthy queues. In 2009 it was revealed that the lane restrictions were hardly being enforced, when the Metropolitan Police admitted that there were no dedicated cameras.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Christopher Grant

    I was involved in the initial concept of this scheme and although I have not seen recent studies of the bus lane, the post scheme studies I have seen showed that the journey time improved during peak periods for both passenger cars and busses. It was acknowledged that there was a loss of benefit to motorists in the off peak periods due to the originally imposed 50mph speed limit, this was later increased to 60mph reducing the impact and providing an overall benefit. The disturbance to the traffic flow caused by the merge from three lanes to two as the motorway goes over the 2 lane M4 elevated section is a significant bottle neck and disturbance to the traffic flow. The introduction of the Bus lane removed this turbulence by providing a lane drop to Junction 3 improving traffic flow and journey time reliability as the conflicts were largely removed.
    I am surprised studies show that, contrary to other studies, the bus lane does not provide overall benefit. During peak times both passenger cars and bus journey time were better than before the scheme (I drove this route daily both before and after the scheme and consider, with bias perhaps, that the situation was better with the scheme – the queues were longer but flowed better). Unless the turbulence caused at the merge onto the M4 elevated section is improved I suspect the situation would be back to normal – The interim change will tell the tale, however, it seems to me to be a disappointing result for public transport initiatives, perhaps multi occupancy would have been more appropriate use.

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