London buses could be given priority on the city’s main roads round the clock for seven days a week under proposals for increasing service reliability unveiled by Transport for London today.
Trial extensions of the periods in which bus lanes operate are planned for late in the summer, reflecting and encouraging what TfL calls “a customer shift away from peak hours” in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
TfL says the change will make bus journeys quicker on its roads because having bus lanes in operation 24 hours a day “will reduce the impact of any congestion on buses”. Current bus lane times vary, but generally cover the busiest times of day for road traffic, with the road space becoming accessible to private vehicles late in the evenings and at night. The busiest weekday travel periods for TfL services are between 05:45 and 08:15 and between 16:00 and 17:30.
It is hoped that a more uniform demand for bus services during each day will also facilitate easier social distancing at bus stops. Capacity limits on buses have recently been relaxed to a maximum of 30 passengers on double-deckers and between 11 and 14 on single-deckers, depending on the model.
TfL said earlier this month that there had been a “near complete return” to normal bus fare-paying after a period when no fares were collected in order to lessen the chances of Covid-19 transmission. Bus ridership has recovered to 40 per cent of “normal levels” having plunged to around 15 per cent at the height of the infection period.
Tim Bellenger, director of policy and investigation at transport-user watchdog London TravelWatch, welcomed the trials, which will last for a minimum of six months, saying they will “improve bus speeds, reduce journey times and improve service reliability” and be in line with calls the organisation has been making for several years.
TfL’s director of bus operations, Claire Mann, said the proposed changes reflect a need to “adapt our network, be flexible and continue to help people travel safely and reliably as London gets back on its feet.” She said the proposed changes “will have significant benefits for bus passengers and people cycling beyond the current hours of operation, many of which were introduced years ago in a very different situation.”
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