Where is the M4 bus lane research?

Today saw the removal of the first section of the M4 bus lane between Heathrow Airport and central London as promised by the new government at the recent Conservative party conference. A ‘Whitehall Source’ said at the time that “The business case shows time savings for all current non-bus lane users during the morning peak period, with more savings during the evening peak. There is no significant change in journey times for existing bus lane users.” Sounds great.

M4 bus lane

However.. after the lane was created in 1999 the Transport Research Laboratory wrote two reports for the government (in 2000 and in 2003) which evidently found that the scheme had reduced rush hour journey times by 3.5 minutes for buses and even reduced times for cars. It also estimated that 21% of the people were able to benefit from the lane even though they were only using 7% of the vehicles.

Motorists loathed it! Jeremy Clarkson called it a ‘stupid pinko bus lane’. The Sun described it as ‘insane’. The AA described it as a ‘White Elephant’. When announcing its removal Philip Hammond, the Secretary of Sate for Transport said that ‘Nothing is more symbolic of Labour’s war on the motorist’ and  that motorists ‘sit sweltering in traffic queues watching an empty lane by the side of them with just the occasional vehicle going down it’.

Heavy stuff, so what is the truth? You may have noticed that I was careful in my description of the TRL report, I said that it ‘written for’ not ‘published by’ because it has never been published.

A total of 7 Freedom of Information requests wer made to various organisations on the same day as the announcement. They asked for the 2000 and 2003 research by TRL to be made available and also the more recent research underpinning the claims made about it’s removal. After 20 days the Highways Agency has asked for more time to respond due to ‘the complexity of the request’. The Department for Transport has not acknowledged receipt of the FOI request or responded. Transport for London responded saying that they had not been consulted on the recent decision and therefore couldn’t help.

I believe that the humble coach has a lot to offer the UK. It believe that the coach can build an intercity public transport service that rail can never deliver. It resolves congestion very effectively, it is energy efficient and it allows people to relax and work which traveling in a way that they can’t while driving.

However, we won’t get there without basing our transport decisions being based on what the data is telling us rather than what Mr Clarkson is telling us. The prime minister has spoken frequently about the importance of transparency and ‘open source planning‘. A great start would be getting the M4 bus lane research from 2000, 2003 and 2010 published as requested through FOI.

There are other sources of information. Taxi companies have of course be logging data GPS data from the route for years so that will be another route to truth. No doubt there are also many logs for coaches, motorbikes and normal cars. The bus lane is going to be out of action now for 18 month and will then be reinstated for the Olympics which will given us another opportunity to collect a load of data at which point we should be able to make an informed decision about the future of this very political bit of tarmac!


I am pleased to report that the Highways Agency published the requested information on 10 December 2010 which I have done a separate post about.

About PeterEastern
Amongst other things I am interested in the overlap between information technology and personal travel and how we can remain mobile whilst also greatly reducing the negative effects of our travel.

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