The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has decided to scrap 22 out of the city’s 26 bus lanes. This came after an experiment where all the bus lanes were suspended and an independent assessment of the impact was undertaken by engineering consultants Mott MacDonald.

Mayor Anderson says:

“I want to make sure that travelling through the city is as quick as possible for all road users. It’s vital for business, for residents, for visitors and I wasn’t convinced our routes were working as well as they could. For the first time we have robust data about the effects of bus lanes, rather than people’s opinions about how useful or otherwise they are. There are clear recommendations that the majority of bus lanes should be removed.”

The motive is to ease congestion for the private motorists. The debate was about whether this advantage was proportionate if bus journeys were slowed down.

Rather surprisingly the number of bus passengers has actually increased. The Council’s Cabinet Report says:

“Service level bus patronage figures were provided for the review and these indicated a 1.1% increase in bus usage across Merseyside from October 2012 to March 2013 to the same period in 2013/14. As noted in the review documentation, it is difficult to attribute patronage figures to any one particular factor. However, whilst traffic volume information was not available for the study, the small increase in bus patronage across the region indicates that the trial has not led to modal shift away from bus usage.”

Warnings that pollution and accidents would increase were not substantiated by the evidence:

“Findings have indicated the estimated emission changes to be negligible across the bus lane sections. The review also includes analysis of the number of injury accidents recorded for the three main corridors. Analysis of the data shows that the total number of injury accidents recorded on the three corridors rose initially prior to the start of the trial period in the summer of 2013, but that this was followed by month on month reductions in accident numbers between September 2013 and March 2014 (most recent available data).”

Bus journey times were only fractionally slower. It turns out that the main delay to buses was illegal parking.

Councils have a financial interest in keeping bus lanes as they collect fines from those who drive in them. That may prompt some reluctance to follow Liverpool’s lead. However it will be harder for councils to pretend there is any other reason for maintaining them.

The RAC hopes it will set a precedent. In Bristol the Mayor agreed last year to a “review” of bus lanes.

Glasgow are also having a review – but have rather prejudged it by declaring bus lanes to be “vital”.