Bus priority: It's much more than bus lanes

Giving buses greater priority on our roads matters because when road space is at a premium it makes sense to give priority to those vehicles that can move the most people in the most efficient way. And a well used bus service clearly takes up less road space than the equivalent number of cars. Faster and more reliable bus services bring a host of benefits. Bus services become more attractive leading to more passengers, including people switching from private cars. The economics of running the services improves – which means more services can be provided at less cost. It’s good for air quality too as buses spend less time idling in traffic. More reliable and more competitive bus services mean buses provide greater benefits for communities, for shops and for business as well. 

Bus priority is not just about bus lanes – though bus lanes can and do play a key role in many schemes. Other bus priority measures include ‘bus gates’ through traffic light priority or dedicated bus-only spurs at junctions. Importantly, bus priority schemes involve far more than providing better conditions for bus passengers – they are also often part of wider streetworks which can include: 

  • Making streets safer and more attractive for cyclists and pedestrians 
  • Renewing pavements and street furniture 
  • Reorganising parking, delivery and drop off to better meets local needs 
  • Bringing life to shopping areas when full pedestrianisation can sometimes lead to too sterile an environment

Bus gates and traffic signal priority

Bus gates are often used in areas with limited road space for bus lanes. They can take the form of a spur of ‘bus-only’ road to a junction, or selective vehicle priority (SVP) at traffic lights. SVP extends green lights or shortens red lights so delayed buses can pass through a junction more quickly. Light timings can also be adjusted to smooth general traffic flow. In Hazel Grove, Manchester, SVP has reduced bus journey times by three minutes and journey time variability by 50%, while cutting congestion levels for all traffic by 75%.

Better pedestrian crossings

The bus journey is just one part of passengers’ ‘door to door’ trip. Successful bus priority schemes take full account of passengers’ experience when they arrive at their destination. As a result, they include new or upgraded pedestrian crossings in the vicinity of bus stops and road junctions. These works also mean safer streets for all. Examples include tactile paving and audible signals, benefiting older shoppers. Careful planning means additional crossings can be installed without an adverse impact on the speed of bus journeys or general traffic.

Smarter streets

Bus priority schemes offer the opportunity to consider the wider character and design of streets and any issues the public would like to be resolved. Improvements that have been implemented in towns and cities due to bus priority schemes being introduced include: remodelling roads and pavements to provide new public spaces; better street lighting; higher quality paving; and tree planting and landscaping. In addition, parking arrangements can be upgraded or moved to new expanded facilities.

Cycle priority

New facilities for cyclists have been integrated into bus priority projects cost effectively across the country, ensuring the schemes contribute as widely as possible to reducing road congestion and promoting sustainable travel. Typically, cyclists are permitted to use some bus lanes; bus lanes are built with a cycle lane to the side; or priority boxes are provided for cyclists at junctions. Bus stop designs can ensure that a dedicated cycle route continues in front of, or behind, bus shelters.