Should bus lanes be shared?Posted: November 8, 2011
The Government’s announcement this week that motorcycles will be able to travel in the bus lane on Hoddle St for a six month trial period revealed a surprising diversity of views about who should and shouldn’t be able to travel in bus lanes.
At present, only buses and bicycles can use the bus lane on Hoddle St (it runs on the south side of Hoddle between the Eastern Freeway and Victoria Parade – there’s no bus lane on the northern side).
The reporter for The Age, Jason Dowling, did his homework and canvassed a number of organisations with an interest in the matter. The Government and the Victorian Motorcycle Council evidently favour buses, motorcycles and bicycles, but:
- The RACV says the lane should be limited to buses and taxis
- The Bus Association says only buses should be permitted
- Bicycle Network Victoria is against motorcycles – it says the lane should only be used by bicycles and buses
I can’t see any problem with motorcycles and scooters using the bus lane. They’re fast enough so they won’t hold up buses and they’re small enough that they shouldn’t present queuing problems at intersections. Although they’re not without problems (noise and pollution from two strokes), they’re a relatively efficient form of transport compared to cars and low occupancy buses. If cyclists can successfully share a lane with buses that barely fit, contending with motorcycles should be a cakewalk. Motorcycles warrant space in the bus lane.
However the logic of the RACV’s argument that taxis and hire cars should be able to use bus lanes is hard to fathom. There’s no environmental or equity benefit to be gained from making a trip by taxi rather than by car. The only real difference is that in one case you’re paying for a chauffeur and in the other you’re doing the driving yourself (although for a traveller from one of the 10% of Melbourne households that don’t own a car the equation would be different).
Taxis provide an important service, but they aren’t “public transport” in the meaningful sense of a vehicle shared by multiple passengers going to multiple destinations (except sometimes at the airport). They are “public transport” only in the narrow sense that they’re available to anyone for a price. That’s also true of rental cars and I can’t see any reason why they should get access to bus lanes either.
If anything, bicycles are probably the least appropriate mode to share with buses. They’re slower and hence can potentially hold buses up, depending on conditions. In order to overtake a cyclist safely, a bus on Hoddle St will need to enter the adjoining lane, thus weakening to some degree the whole point of a dedicated bus lane.
Of course we’ve been having the “trial” of buses and cyclists on Hoddle St for around ten years, so it would be useful to see the views of both drivers and cyclists on how it’s worked to date. The opposition of the Bus Association to sharing bus lanes with any other modes suggests drivers might be unhappy. I hear anecdotally that there’ve been few serious incidents between cyclists and buses on Hoddle St, but then I also hear few cyclists are prepared to brave the bus lane.
There’s a wider issue here though. If cyclists can’t use bus lanes then an increasing proportion of kerbside road space is likely to be denied them. Another interpretation is that being shunted off with buses in a separate lane is a further sign that cyclists aren’t seen as legitimate road users. My view is buses and bicycles aren’t a natural fit – they can share more or less successfully while ever volumes of either mode are low, but once the numbers pick up it’s bound to get problematic. In the absence of infrastructure dedicated exclusively to bicycles, they belong on the road, not in bus lanes.
Bicycle Network Victoria’s approach to the proposed trial seems very insular to me. I’m a cyclist not a motorcyclist, but I think it’s more likely powered two wheelers (including pedelecs) are going to have a bigger role in the future transport of Melbourne than bicycles.