Edinburgh bus lanes: Extending hours could take up to two years

Edinburgh councillors urge ‘rapid implementation’

Plans to extend bus lane hours in Edinburgh could take up to two years to come to fruition, according to the city’s transport chief, as councillors called for “rapid implementation” to be explored.

The council unanimously backed a call to introduce a “7-7-7” system on existing peak-time lanes – which would give priority to buses from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week – at a City Chambers meeting in June. Transport convener Scott Arthur said the “nature of the peaks” had changed during the pandemic and a more uniform approach was needed to address this shift in travel behaviours.

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He said the roll-out of 7-7-7 would also be key to increasing the number of bus passengers, meeting climate targets and cutting congestion. However, he added that due to lengthy consultations it could be “something like two years” before it was introduced across the Capital, though there was a desire to “move faster.” On Thursday members of the transport committee called for the scheme to be included in a public transport report set to go before councillors in February, which they agreed should include proposals for “rapid implementation.”

The council plans to extend bus lane operating hours to 7am-7pm seven days a week. Picture: Greg Macvean.

Changes to bus lane hours were mooted back in 2019, when the authority held a consultation on extending priority to seven days a week which was met with around 20,000 responses. However, this never returned to the committee for a decision to take the plan forward “due to the impact of Covid-19 on the council and public transport operations,” a report stated. It added: “Emerging changes in traffic patterns as the acute pandemic response lessens have strengthened the case for extended bus lane operation. In light of these changes, more detailed consultation with Lothian Buses, other transport providers, and the Edinburgh Bus Users’ Group is planned.”

The move was welcomed by a group formed in the summer, partly following the removal of a bus lane on the A8 which “provoked wider concern over the future of Edinburgh bus lanes.” In a deputation to the committee, the group – which includes members of BEST (Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel), Edinburgh Bus Users Group, Living Streets Edinburgh, Capital Rail Action Group, Spokes cycle campaign and South West Edinburgh 20 Minute Neighbourhoods (SW20) – said it was “equally important” to ensure the council is active in enforcing bus lane hours. They added: “As population and travel around the city grows, one would expect that enforcement resources and vigour would increase. However, despite the welcome introduction of some bus lane cameras, we consider that enforcement has not improved commensurately.”

Councillor Arthur said: “I think the nature of public transport is changing in Edinburgh. When I was first appointed as transport convener I did say that what’s good for public transport in Edinburgh is good for Edinburgh – and I think I really do include bus priority measures in that. Of course, getting more people to use the bus is key to our climate change aspirations, key to cutting congestion and also our ambition to reduce traffic levels by 30 per cent in Edinburgh.

“Post-Covid, the nature of the peaks has changed, when they are during the day and when they are during the week so it’s right that we do look to progress 7-7-7 bus lanes to try to address that. My concern is that the consultation process that’s hinted at in the business bulletin will mean that we may end up going for a three month consultation with the public transport action plan and then restart the full formal traffic regulation order (TRO) consultation process, so maybe it’ll be something like two years before we really see the benefit I think we need today. We know the TRO process isn’t always fit for purpose where these things are concerned, so there’s a real desire on my part to move faster.”

He said public transport providers are also “keen to see progress.” The transport convener added operators accepted that whilst the 7-7-7 system could not be justified on every bus lane, it would work in the “vast, vast majority” of cases.