HL Deb 01 July 1997 vol 581 cc86-9

3 p.m.

The Earl of Bradford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that bus lanes operate efficiently and effectively.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, buses are a vital part of the transport systems in our towns and cities. Bus lanes help to keep buses moving in traffic but are often blocked by illegal use. My department is researching new ways of giving buses priority in traffic and of enforcing existing bus lanes. The recently announced review of bus policy will consider options for improving the effectiveness of bus lanes.

The Earl of Bradford

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that realistic reply. Are the Government aware that major delays are caused by delivery vehicles obstructing bus lanes throughout the day, forcing buses to pull out to get round them? That defeats the purpose of bus lanes. Will the Government consider adopting the system operating successfully in several major Continental cities, where delivery times are limited to the hours between midnight and 6 a.m.?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the noble Earl is right to highlight the problem of delivery vehicles blocking bus lanes. The Government have considered the problem, and it concerns us. However, requirements for access to frontage businesses— particularly on red routes—need to be taken into account at the stage of bus lane planning and during consultation. Normally bus lanes operate only during peak periods, that is, between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the morning and between 4 o'clock and 7 o'clock in the evening. We are aware that on the Continent bus lanes usually operate all day and that deliveries must be made at night. But that would cause a considerable burden to frontage businesses. We wish to concentrate on enforcing the existing times for bus lanes.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that tourist coaches frequently park in the bus lanes immediately opposite your Lordships' House? Is there any general rule exempting tourist coaches from the rules that apply to every other mortal?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am not aware of the exact legal position with regard to tourist coaches. I will write to the noble Lord with the details. There are exemptions to the bus lane prohibition, for example, pedal cyclists, but I do not know the details, so I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I am one of the many motor cyclists in your Lordships' House. Can the Minister give any encouragement to motor cyclists that the Government will consider allowing them to use bus lanes?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the experiment in Bristol was inconclusive. Motor cyclists are not normally permitted to use bus lanes for safety reasons. There is, of course, a major public transport review and I have no doubt that, through the associations representing motor cyclists, the noble Lord will wish to make his case. But at the moment motor cycles are not allowed.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, can the noble Baroness comment on the experiment of equipping buses in London with cameras? Do the Government believe in encouraging it? It happens in other cities which have terrible traffic problems, just like London.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the use of additional security cameras to monitor the illegal use of bus lanes at prohibited times is to be extended. My honourable friend Glenda Jackson, the Minister in another place, has referred to the importance of an event at the end of July to draw attention to the illegal use of bus lanes and to the enforcement that will be possible by the proper authorities through the use of security cameras.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a problem just as serious as parked lorries and cars in bus lanes arises when cars are driven illegally in bus lanes, blocking the yellow boxes? Can she tell the House who is responsible for the enforcement of bus lane regulations and whether the Government have any plans for extending them?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, traffic wardens are responsible for dealing with the problem of the illegal use of bus lanes. I have seen such enforcement being undertaken regularly in the bus lanes outside your Lordships' House.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, are we not perhaps looking at the problem the wrong way round? Should we not encourage the free use of essential vehicles all day long while providing limited facilities for private cars?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, that is the kind of issue that will be put forward and discussed as part of the review of transport policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, states from a sedentary position that everything is being reviewed. Perhaps much needs to be reviewed after 18 years of the previous government's policies, not least with regard to public transport. The review will offer the opportunity for all interested groups and representatives of interested parties to put forward measures. But it is clear that something must be done, particularly when we consider the effect on children's health of the totally unbridled use of the private car in urban areas.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the major cause of congestion is not bus lanes but the deregulation of public transport by the previous government? Does she agree that all our towns and cities are jammed full of buses of all shapes and sizes? What do the Government feel about that?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, there is widespread concern about the results of deregulation of public transport outside London because of the previous government's policies. When producing a White Paper for an integrated transport strategy, following consultation, we will consider this important area. My noble friend is right. In all too many cases people in suburban areas and particularly in rural areas have had their services reduced because it is in the interests of the operators to compete for the most financially profitable routes.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that 24-hour bus lanes have been operating in Reading for some while? They are a success, for the simple reason that people—certainly those who live in Reading—know that bus lanes are bus lanes and it is an offence for others to drive in them. Will the noble Baroness consider the Reading situation? It is not an experiment. Will she also consider whether contraflow bus lanes might help the flow of public transport, particularly in London and other big cities?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the fact that in Reading, as in many other local authority areas, successful plans have been put into practice which suit the local circumstances. I am sure my noble friend will agree that much depends on the geography of a place and the pattern of travel within it. But in cities and towns as diverse as Reading and Edinburgh very successful local schemes have been put into effect.