I have not always been supportive of Joe Anderson, the directly elected Labour Mayor of Liverpool – whether on council finances or his destructive housing policies. But he is justified in claiming as a “bold decision”, the suspension of all bus lanes in the city for nine months. Mr Anderson adds that he will then look at the evidence before deciding which, if any of them, to reinstate.
Mr Anderson says:
The evidence we do have suggests that bus lanes are not benefiting the city as planned, that they may actually be making congestion (and the associated harmful emissions) worse, and that they are not leading to an increase in bus patronage. Indeed, the Third Local Transport Plan for Merseyside recognised that the overall trend for bus patronage as a proportion of the total public transport journeys across Merseyside was showing a continual decline.
It is not his only transport policy. Liverpool has launched a Car Hire Club and the Cycle Hire Scheme “which launches next year and is set to be the UK’s biggest, outside London”. He is open minded about “possible alternatives to bus lanes, such as HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes to reduce traffic congestion”. (Which they have tried in Auckland.)
Mr Anderson adds:
Some people have suggested to me that we shouldn’t do this because the bus lanes generate income of £700,000-a-year for the council in fines. But in my view, it would be immoral to treat motorists as a cash cow, and that is why my priority is making sure that we look at this properly, and get it right.
That is quite right. Indeed the alternative approach favoured in Oxfordshire contravenes the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. For many bureaucrats bus lanes are motivated by ideology – punishing the motorist as part of the crusade against personal ownership and in favour of egalitarian public transport. On that basis, if the motorist faces increased congestion that is a success rather than a failure.
For Mr Anderson, the issue must be judged according to the overall impact on traffic congestion. I suspect his experiment will be a success. But the point will be to look at the evidence. Perhaps there will be a trade-off between car journeys being faster and bus journeys slower. Perhaps the impact on the former will be substantial and the impact on the latter marginal. Whatever happens, the rest of us will be interested. This type of initiative is a vindication for the system of directly elected mayors. It makes innovation of this sort more likely than collective decision-making by groups of councillors which will tend more towards timidity and consensus. Mr Anderson is to be commended for resisting the tyranny of sameness: just doing what has been done before and what everyone else does.