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INSIDE TRACK: What happens when a city scraps its bus lanes?

IF you are interested in bus lanes, there should be an interesting little report winging its way on to newspaper pages this month.

The long-awaited report into Liverpool City Council's controversial decision to scrap them for nine months is due to be published in the coming weeks.

The findings, if positive, are likely to be seized on by bus lane opponents. On the other hand, if the pilot was a disaster the report will provide ammunition for other local authorities to continue the policy and even ramp it up.

In Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen councils all use bus-lane cameras to catch and fine motorists. Since they first came into force in 2012, the cameras have generated millions of pounds for all three local authorities - though it is worth remembering that the schemes also cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to run.

To their detractors, bus-lane cameras are moneyspinners intended to boost council coffers at the expense of hapless drivers - a bamboozled tourist or a motorist let down by faded road markings or obscured street signs.

On the flipside, their supporters argue that bus-lane cameras are there to reduce congestion in our cities by clearing a path for buses, taxi and cyclists - the motorists who rail against them do so simply because they think cars should rule the road.

As long as you steer clear, they say, you will never be hit with a penalty charge notice in the first place. It is a polarising topic, to say the least.

Which is why those of us with an interest in transport matters await the verdict of the Liverpool case study with interest.

It began last September, when councillors in Liverpool voted to suspend all 24 of the city's dedicated 24-hour bus lanes in a bid to cut congestion. The average Merseyside motorist spent 39 hours in traffic jams last year, with only London and Greater Manchester commuters faring worse.

Liverpool's Mayor Joe Anderson said the bus lanes "simply don't work", but promised they could be reinstated if the pilot failed. He even conceded that axing them would cost the council some £600,000 in lost revenue from fines.

However, the decision angered environmentalists and bus operators. John Coyne, Green councillor for Liverpool, said it was a "huge step backwards" for the city and a "badly designed" project. Nonetheless, the pilot launched on October 21.

Experts were far from convinced it would be a success.

In March, the Northamptonshire-based Institute of Logistics and Transport warned scrapping bus lanes would harm the city economically and socially.

"The decision to suspend them appears rushed and based on flimsy 'evidence' that is mainly predicated on a discredited approach," said Austin Birks, chairman of the institute's bus and coach forum, urging the council to "terminate what appears to be an ill-considered experiment".

At the time, Mayor Anderson said it was too early to say what the impact had been on traffic flow.

This month, his time will be up.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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