A recent proposal put forward by the Traffic Commissioner for Wales, Nick Jones, has suggested that allowing HGVs to use bus lanes could be vital to improving traffic flow across the country. But is the idea realistic or just a distracting way to paper over the growing cracks in UK infrastructure?
Though it may seem a controversial proposal, Mr Jones was careful to stress that HGVs would only be allowed to use bus lanes for “limited periods”, for example alleviating traffic in specific problem areas or times. Many supporters of the idea have also been quick to point out that it is not without its precedents.
Currently, several other vehicle types are allowed to use bus lanes alongside buses, including licensed taxis, motorcycles, mopeds, scooters and cyclists. New plans have also recently been introduced to allow electric car drivers to use the lanes – taking inspiration from Norway, both Milton Keynes and Derby have allowed electric cars to use certain bus lanes since 2016.
In 2008, the Norwich Highways Agency Committee also approved an experimental 12-month Traffic Regulation Order allowing HGVs from the Norwich Freight Consolidation Centre to use a number of bus lanes local to the centre – though this was only for an estimated five HGVs per day, and the results of the experiment are unclear.
A Two-Way Street
The proposal has been met with great support from many transport groups, with the Freight Transport Association stating that the new rules could lead to less congestion, better delivery of vital supplies and lower delivery costs that could be passed on to consumers – echoing Mr Jones’ statement that “HGVs are essential for the economy and the provision of services”.
The Road Haulage Association also welcomed the idea, although with the caveat that the solution not be used as an excuse to neglect continued investment in UK roads and infrastructure.
Other groups, however, have not been so supportive. Local councils have expressed concerns that introducing HGVs into bus lanes will simply worsen congestion by causing delays to bus routes, as well as questioning whether many lorries would realistically be able to fit into bus lanes on small roads.
Similarly, Sustrans Cymru has argued that bus lanes are currently somewhat of a “safe haven” for cyclists and that introducing HGVs into these lanes could not only put more cyclists’ lives at danger but also discourage people from cycling at all – something which they claim would actually result in more congestion as travellers opt to get back in their vehicles rather than cycle or take the bus.
While concerns about width restrictions have yet to be alleviated, Mr Jones did go some way to addressing any worries the cycling community may have, suggesting that lorry drivers could undergo special training in sharing roads with bicycle users. In the case of the Norwich experiment, further restrictions were also put in place to protect cyclists, such as preventing HGV drivers from overtaking bikes while using bus lanes.
More Work to be Done
While limited measures have been put in place, we believe there is a lot more work to be done when it comes to addressing traffic congestion in the UK. Much of the government’s current proposals rely on low-cost ‘education’ methods such as launching a free Highway Code app or sending good practice leaflets to road users.
In reality, real investment needs to be made into expanding road capacity, improving existing roads, more efficient management of roadworks, and putting more money into improving public services in order to encourage more domestic drivers off the roads and on to public transport.
At Waller Transport, we welcome the idea of opening bus lanes to HGVs as we believe it could provide real advantages both to haulage companies like ourselves and the customers who benefit from our services. However, we believe that new rules should only be introduced if the correct measures are taken to safeguard the security of other road users. It’s also vital that the proposal isn’t used to absolve the government from their responsibility to continue investing in and improving our roads and infrastructure.
One of our key areas of focus at Waller Transport is making the most of the the HGVs that are on the road to ensure fewer wasted journeys and reduce inefficiencies in the haulage industry. Find out more about the return loads model that we promote as a key part of our process.