- Created: 22 October 2009
Deal or No Deal host Noel Edmonds has been caught driving in a bus lane in Bristol – twice. Though he drives a traditional black cab, it’s not licensed as a taxi That means that he could be risking a £60 fine for being “a bit cheeky”, as his spokesman put it, and dodging the jams. Somebody should tell him there’s an easier way – get on two wheels and he could use the bus lanes in Bristol as much as he likes.
One of the great benefits of riding a scooter or motorbike in a city is avoiding congestion. Instead of sitting in a jam with your engine idling uselessly, you can filter between the stopped cars and buses and keep moving. More and more councils, recognising that two-wheelers can help them beat congestion, are opening up bus lanes to motorbikes and scooters as well as bicycles.
Bristol was way ahead of the rest of England with a trial in 1996, and has allowed motorcycles to use bus lanes throughout the city for nearly ten years. Which makes it easier and safer for riders to pass the frustrated drivers on four wheels. Another reason to finally get on that scooter or motorbike!
So where else can you enjoy the extra road space? Northern Ireland welcomes motorcycles in all bus lanes, but in most places you need to check the road signs for that cool, retro silhouette.
We know that bus lanes are open to motorcycles in Peterborough, Colchester and Derby. Grimsby and Hull have opened up theirs too, as have Sunderland and Sheffield. Birmingham gives motorcyclists the legal right to use bus lanes, but we haven’t been able to find any actual roads where it’s happening!
In the South, Reading, Swindon, Bath and North East Somerset are sharing their lanes with us, Plymouth have an 18 month trial scheme, and of course the M4 bus lane between Heathrow and London is open to motorbikes as well as buses and taxis.
In London the picture is more complicated. Some boroughs, including Hammersmith and Fulham, Richmond upon Thames, Southwark, Sutton and parts of Westminster, do allow scooters and motorbikes in their bus lanes. But Transport for London – TfL – are also running a trial scheme on ‘red routes’, certain express roads into central London. So if you can see a thick red line at the edge of the bus lane in London, you’re probably legal.
Yes, using bus lanes is still seen as an experiment in many places, with other road users still to be convinced that we can share nicely. In fact, a code of conduct has been agreed to help avoid friction between bus lane users. And remember, other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists may not be expecting you to be in that bus lane. Meaning it’s more important than ever to be alert, and to have good road manners.
People walking on the pavement will be looking out for two things in a bus lane – buses (large and very visible) and bicycles (small but slower moving). Even if they see you coming, they may not register that you’re coming towards them as fast as a bus. So take it easy, especially when the pavements are busy. Give distracted commuters a wide berth in case they step out to use the bus lane themselves.
Pedal cyclists feel vulnerable and don’t want a motorbike passing them so close that they can feel your breeze. Show them some courtesy and give them as much room as you‘d want if a lorry was overtaking you. Don’t overtake them on the inside, and don’t bust the speed limit. You’re already moving faster than all those cars, be gracious in victory.
Bear in mind, too, that cyclists sometimes need to move across the lane for all sorts of reasons – to avoid a pothole, or preparing to pass a parked car, for example. They probably can’t see you behind them – how many bicycles have you seen with rear view mirrors? And in a bus lane they’re probably not expecting you to be there at all, so the fact they can hear your engine won’t help (unless your engine sounds like a bus – in which case you’ve got your own problems!). So give them as much room as you can, all the time.
Overtaking buses and taxis within the lane is a bad idea too. You may think you can squeeze through that little gap, but even if you’re right, you can’t see what’s beyond the bus. If passengers have just got off it, they’re pretty likely to cross the road, and they prettyunlikely to expect you to be moving when everything else is stopped.
Most drivers are generous enough to let you pull out into the main traffic lane and overtake, realising that you’ll be back in the bus lane and out of their way in a few seconds. And if you acknowledge that with a nod or a wave, they’re even more likely to do it next time.
But, like pedestrians and cyclists, other drivers won’t be expecting you to appear in an empty bus lane. So take extra care at junctions, side roads and entrances. Yes, a lorry pulling out of a driveway should be looking out for cyclists as well as big red buses, but they won’t be used to a vehicle no wider than a bicycle but approaching as fast as a bus. If they pull out in front of you, it’s not spite, it’s just seeing what they expect to see, instead of what’s really there – you, braking hard and scowling.
And bear in mind that cars turning off the main road may not spot you coming. Be fair – before you started riding, did you always look twice for motorbikes? If you’re approaching a side road, watch out for cars indicating left, and try to stay where they’ll see you. And remember that a gap in the traffic might mean a kind driver is letting somebody turn in front of them – and across your path.
Get On has a section on improving your motorcycle skills – worth a read, whether you’re an experienced rider or thinking about learning to ride. If you want any more tips, the MCIA has agreed a code of conduct for using bus lanes with a coalition including riders’ groups and the Metropolitan Police. And for Noel Edmonds our tip is – if you want to use the bus lanes –get on a motorcycle!