M4 bus lane to be axed by Christmas

PD-M4-bus-laneThe controversial 3.5-mile M4 bus lane between Heathrow Airport and Central London is to be “consigned to the dustbin of history” before Christmas, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has announced.

The bus lane was introduced in 1999 by then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Hammond called it a “hated symbol of the Prescott era”. It had also been the source of conflict between London Black Taxis and Private Hire operators – taxis were allowed to use the lane, while licensed private hire operators were not.

Now this debate is academic. From December 24, 2010, the lane, which runs between junctions 3 and 2 of the eastbound M4, will be open to all motorists, so black cabs will no longer have an advantage over chauffeurs and private hire companies when taking passengers from Heathrow to London.

The Transport Secretary ordered the suspension after new analysis showed that journey times at peak periods would be reduced for car drivers and hauliers without significantly affecting buses, motorbikes and taxis currently allowed to use the lane. 

The suspension will remain in place until June 2012 when the lane becomes part of the Olympic Route Network for the London 2012 Olympic Games. But once the games are over, it will be permanently removed.

Hammond said: "I want to keep traffic moving and improve journey time reliability through making the most of our existing roads. The M4 is a vital strategic route and therefore it is important that we do everything possible to reduce congestion on it. Once the Olympics are over my intention is to scrap the bus lane permanently as I believe excluding road users in this way is unfair and damaging to the economy.”

Hammond has said he would end the “indiscriminate war on the motorist” that he claimed was waged by the previous labour Government. “The idea that the only solution is to force people out of their cars is pessimistic, outdated, Labour dogma,” he told the Conservative Party Conference.

The Highways Agency will monitor the suspension over the next 18 months and traffic data gathered will be used to inform the Government's final decision about the future of the bus lane.

The private hire sector has been lobbying to be given the same access to bus lanes as hackney carriages. Earlier this year, Addison Lee, London’s largest private hire operator, ordered its drivers to use the lane, and risk being stopped by Police. There have been no reports of any Addison Lee vehicle being stopped, however. The most recent statistics showed only 14 £60 fixed penalty notices being issued to drivers in 2008.

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