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'. All bus lanes where buses are moving in the same direction as traffic in the adjacent or vehicle lane shall be open to use by cycles, motorcycles, licensed taxis and invalid vehicles.'.
Mr. Knight: It must be about 25 years ago that the first bus lane was introduced in the United Kingdom. I think that it is appropriate, as this Bill is before us, that we take a look again at the operation of bus lanes in the UK to see whether we can strike a better balance and get more use out of bus lane capacity. All too often, we see empty bus lanes and congestion in other lanes. For much of the day in some cities, traffic is at a standstill, while alongside that congestion there are empty bus carriageways.
When bus lanes were introduced, they were sold to the public as a way of decreasing pollution by allowing buses to have quicker access to and from city centres. The argument went that if people caught the bus they would find that their journey was quicker because the bus would be able to use a dedicated bus lane. We were told that that was the environmentally friendly way to travel. However, I think we would all acceptat least I hope we would all acceptthat bus lanes have not worked as well as we were told they would on their introduction. The reason for that is that, in many city centres during the rush hour, a third of the road capacity in one direction in some cases, and in others up to half the road capacity, is taken up with a dedicated bus lane.
Mr. Forth: Does my right hon. Friend agree that enforcement of bus lane discipline is sadly lacking? I do not know whether he shares my experience but, driving in London, I see a rather regrettable number of violations of bus lanes, with apparently very little effort to enforce them. Does he not agree that enforcement, together with his proposal, would make a great difference?
Mr. Knight: I would warn drivers who think that they can use the bus lane without getting caught to take care, because cameras have been installed at the front of buses to act as a video policing unit and record the details of any vehicle transgressing the current rules. I welcome that development. My right hon. Friend is right that enforcement has been and remains to some extent a problem, but detection rates are on the up because of the use of new technology.
Mr. Knight: Contrary to that sotto voce contribution, that is not an option that is available or appropriate to every motorist. Some people find that, although the bus may cover part of their journey, if they are travelling to a rural area such as East Yorkshire, the service is either woefully inadequate or non-existent. It is simplistic attitudes such as the hon Gentleman's that got us into this position. Many motorists cannot use a bus because it does not take them where they need to go. The enemy here should be pollution, not the motor car. As cars become less polluting, his attitude towards them should become more benign.
Given that bus lanes do not work as well as we were told they would 25 years ago, it is now appropriate to reconsider the rules and guidance on their operation and try to make them work better. New clause 4 is designed to encourage car sharing. Its scope does not extend to contraflow carriageways: I do not argue that those should be opened up to other traffic, but a with-flow carriageway could be used by shared cars.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was concerned in an earlier debate about taking discretion away from local authorities. I accept that the new clause would do that, but I say good, because they have been singularly unimaginative in their approach to tackling this problem. I do not say that the Minister was misleading, but I do not think he painted an accurate picture when he replied to a similar debate in Committee. He gave the impression that it is all down to the local authority, but I have obtained a copy of the guidance issued by his Department, and it is not neutral on the subject.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I do not intend to detain the House for very long on this subject, but I want to discuss a very real problem that I have encountered. I have discussed it with the Department, but I received a factual reply that did not deal with it at all. I ask the Minister to give a moment's thought to the unfortunate milkmen in inner-city areas. Milk floats, which are by definition extremely slow and rather unwieldy, rightly have to avoid inner bus lanes because they would constitute a hazard. But delivering to customers in inner-city areas has become so difficult that many milkmen do not know how to proceed. One unfortunate milkman incurred £450 worth of fines in one week, which was more than he earned. If we as a nation want to encourage people to continue to buy bottled milk, we should think seriously about this issue.
I should tell the Minister that I do not have any pet solutionswould that I didbut the traffic authorities need to be told that we desperately need such small tradesmen to continue to offer a service, particularly in urban areas. If they cannot deliver, they will soon give up trying and make their money elsewhere, which would be to the detriment of such services.
Mrs. Dunwoody: I hesitate to suggest that, but we do need to find a way to enable people to continue to deliver goods. I do not have a lot of sympathy for the very large chains, which could organise their deliveries accordingly and keep people on at night to open up stores and let in deliveries; however, for individual tradesmen this problem constitutes a significant hazard. Indeed, it is worrying many people and putting them off wanting to do the job.
Would that I had an answer for the Minister. This is perhaps a unique parliamentary occasion, in that I have nothing to suggest, but he need only tell me that he will think hard about the matter and come up with a usable scheme.
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (LD): The intention behind new clause 4 is laudable. Given the need to reduce congestion, any suggestion that involves cars carrying more than one passenger is good in principle. The difficulty lies in the practical enforcement. I suspect that one of two scenarios will arise. To enforce the provision, an enormous amount of extra resources will have to be invested to provide more cameras to watch bus lanes; or we will end up like the United States, where there is a booming trade in suitcases containing pop-up secondary figures, which can be placed in the front passenger seat in order to fool traffic wardens and police officers. It is then going to be a waste of time, and it will also defeat the object of reducing congestion. On some urban roads where there are regular bus serviceslet us say every eight, 10 or 15 minutesthe congestion will clearly be worsened by cars being allowed into the bus lanes.
I am more than happy, however, to support new clause 6, proposed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). It is eminently sensible and it highlights the current problem of enormous local variations, which leave many cyclists and motor cyclists confused as to whether they can or cannot use bus lanes. I hope that the Government will therefore accept new clause 6, but the Liberal Democrats cannot support new clause 4.