HL Deb 23 February 1998 vol 586 cc397-400

2.45 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they are taking to encourage local authorities to make bus lanes available to motorcycles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the Government do not believe that allowing motorcyclists to use bus lanes is something that they could or should generally encourage at present. We are concerned that the disadvantages, particularly to other vulnerable road users such as pedal cyclists and pedestrians, may outweigh any benefits to motorcyclists. However, pilot schemes are operating in Bristol and Reading. We are watching those with interest and welcome further proposals for fully monitored trials.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, though it disappoints me. The review has been ongoing for a long time. Can the Minister say when the Bristol bus lane scheme, which has been ongoing since 1995, will produce results? Further, can she say what other proposals her Government intend to bring forward in light of the fact that they have been reviewing the situation for over a year and those reviews have shown what a wonderful means of transport a powered two-wheeler vehicle is?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am not sure that any government review said what a wonderful means of transport a powered two-wheeler is. We said that we are anxious, first, to make sure that those who use powered two-wheelers do so safely and, secondly, to improve the safety of their chosen means of transport. We have also said that we will look, in the context of an integrated transport policy, at the potential that exists in terms of reducing congestion and pollution and improving safety for the powered two-wheeler.

I stress to the House that we must assess that proposal as rigorously as we assess any other claims to contribute towards those aims. It is difficult fully to assess the specific schemes in Bristol and Reading because no monitoring was undertaken before the shared bus lanes were introduced. It is difficult therefore to know what effects they have had on safety and the speed of buses. That is why some fully monitored trials with before and after studies would be extremely helpful.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, given the proven success of bus lanes in encouraging people to leave their cars and take the bus, does the Minister share my concern that the increase in bus lanes in London of only 10 per cent. in four years is much lower than she would like? Does she agree that the first priority is to provide more bus lanes before adding motorcycles or any other type of vehicle to the existing ones?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, we are committed to enhancing the role of the bus as part of the balanced transport policy and development of quality public transport systems. That means that we have to look at the role that bus lanes can play in making sure that bus services are reliable and speedy. The department encourages local highway authorities, which are responsible for deciding whether or not to introduce bus lanes, to consider using them to ensure just that.

Baroness MacLeod of Borve

My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest in this Question in that I can drive a double decker or a single decker bus. I can assure the House that any move in the direction of this Question will make it almost impossible for a bus driver to see a motorcyclist behind him. To allow that situation on our roads would be a great disadvantage not only to the bus drivers, but also to the motorcyclists.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I note the comments of the noble Baroness and particularly the expertise from which she draws them. It is important to maintain the credibility of bus lanes for their primary purpose; that is, enhancing bus journeys. That is why we have to look rigorously at the proposals for extending the use of bus lanes to any other vehicles.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that pedal cyclists would be dismayed and alarmed at any suggestion that motorcycles should use bus lanes? It is already extremely difficult to cycle safely on our roads. Pedal cyclists would be competing with motorcycles for the left hand edge of the road and would be overtaken by them. I hope the Government will resist any such suggestion.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am very well aware of the concerns of pedal cyclists about this possibility. They feel as strongly as those who use powered two-wheelers and who feel that this would be an advantage. That is one of the reasons why we have to be careful in this area and make certain that we do not take any steps without having evidence that to allow motorcyclists into bus lanes would be to the advantage of all the travelling public.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that motorcycles should be encouraged, particularly in urban areas, because they are efficient, practical and very economical? Furthermore, three motorcycles take up the space of one car. As by the nature of things there have to be three people on three motorcycles, and as there is likely to be one driver in perhaps quite a large car, motorcyclists are doing a service in helping to prevent traffic congestion.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Lord uncovers a number of interesting areas. The effect that increased motorcycle usage has on congestion and on pollution depends on a number of factors, including how highly powered the two-wheeler is. There is a vast difference between low powered scooter-type vehicles, which can be useful in urban settings, and very highly powered vehicles. It also depends very much on how many people are in the car and whether the motorcyclist is transferring from a car or transferring from walking, cycling or public transport.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I live on the Bath Road in Reading and that we have a bus lane along that road? We are most concerned that, as bus lanes are clear of other traffic, there is a great temptation for motorcyclists to use them as race tracks, which they often do. Since there are side roads off the bus lanes in most cases, the danger to motor vehicles coming from the side roads is very great indeed. I hope my noble friend will utterly reject the proposal that bus lanes should be used by motorcyclists.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I note the comments of my noble friend, again from personal experience. One of the points his comments highlight is the need for proper and effective enforcement regarding the use of bus lanes if they are to carry out their proper purpose.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that no adverse effects were caused by the motorcycles being in those bus lanes and no accidents were caused in the bus lanes in Bristol during that six-month period?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I cannot comment specifically on the factors to which the noble Lord referred. However, it comes back to the issue of evidence. It is particularly important that we have evidence not just of what happened during the trial, but that we are able to contrast the situation before and after the trial.