Edinburgh bus lane plan shows what city thinks of cars – Steve Cardownie

Proposals to introduce longer hours for bus lanes seem set to be introduced by Edinburgh City Council, even though previous operation times were cut after complaints about motorists being stuck in traffic jams alongside empty stretches of road, writes Steve Cardownie.

Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 6:00 am
Bus lane hours could be extended across the city. Picture: Greg Macvean
Bus lane hours could be extended across the city. Picture: Greg Macvean

As the city council embarks on another consultation exercise, it is worth determining whether or not such a process is a ­genuine attempt to assess the mood of the public or to hopefully gather statistics in favour of a view already held.

The Bus Lane Operational Hours consultation document report opens with the paragraph: “We are considering changing the times that general traffic can use bus lanes to make it faster for people to travel by bus and want to hear your views.”

So the council has already indicated, before even one questionnaire has been returned, that it is intent on introducing measures to make it faster to travel by bus which might be construed, unfairly or otherwise, that the outcome has been determined – so now let’s go out and attempt to get the evidence to justify it.

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At present, bus lanes on the main roads are closed to general traffic from Monday to Friday during peak hours only – 7.30am-9.30am and 4pm-6.30pm – which as a car driver, a bus user and a pedestrian, I find eminently sensible as a scheme which takes into account all road users and does not adversely discriminate against a ­particular mode of transport.

Unintended consequences

So, why is the change being ­proposed now? There is currently a raft of potential traffic measures in the offing in this city, all of which have been extensively covered by this newspaper, from banning diesel cars in the city centre, the potential introduction of a congestion charge, to bringing in a workplace parking levy, all in an effort to force people out of their private ­vehicles and on to public transport.

The extension of bus lane operation times can only surely be measured against this policy as the evidence is there for all to see.

But is this the right measure and what might be the unintended consequences? Lothian Buses has an obvious vested interest in boosting bus patronage, as has the council with its 91 per cent controlling stake in the company, so when it comes down to commercial interests neither is starting from a neutral position, which is to be entirely expected.

Given that bus lanes are already in operation during peak times when ­people are generally travelling to and from work, this new measure is either designed to speed up largely non-urgent journey times or to make it as inconvenient as possible to drive a car in the city.

Some bus lanes in ­Edinburgh previously ­operated on a day-long basis but had their hours of operation reduced as complaints came flooding in from motorists sitting nose-to-tail alongside empty bus lanes unable to move any great ­distance, all the while their engines emitting fumes into the atmosphere – an unintended consequence of their reintroduction perhaps?

As a father and grandfather, I am all too well aware of the need to provide a safe environment, particularly for our children. I have championed the cause of many “green” initiatives in this column and have found myself in some heated discussions with other road users who took issue with me as a result but I can’t help feeling that, in this case, the ­hidden agenda has been revealed.

This new measure can hardly be cloaked in the argument for faster off-peak journey times when the evidence points to another attempt to reduce car usership in the city. The public may welcome it but the public will also understand the motivation behind it.