End of the road for Britain's most hated traffic lane

Drivers will celebrate the demise of John Prescott's M4 bus lane. But, asks Andy McSmith, will we miss it when it's gone?

After causing more arguments that any stretch of road of comparable length anywhere in the country, the much unloved M4 bus lane is no more. The 3.5 miles of motorway, which for the past 11 years has been reserved for buses, coaches, taxis, cycles and emergency vehicles only, is being returned to usage by all vehicles.

The Highways Agency has already started changing the road signs, and normal traffic is expected to be filling the hated lane by the end of the week. Its disappearance will lower the blood pressure of motorists who in the past have found themselves stuck in nose-to-tail traffic on the two lanes open for general use, while buses and taxis sailed past in the outside lane.

But the rules governing the bus lane have only been "suspended" until June 2012, when there will be special arrangements to make sure athletes competing in the Olympics are not trapped in London traffic. After that, the Government insists that the bus lane will be permanently abolished.

One of the most irritating aspects of the privileged strip of asphalt was that if you were stuck in a queue long enough, you were sure to see someone drive past who was not supposed to be using it. The penalty was a £60 fine for anyone who was caught – but the chances of detection were low.

There were no fixed cameras along the route and police appeared to regard the apprehending of unauthorised users as a luxury rather than a priority. Research by BBC London last year revealed that there were just 14 fixed penalty notices issued during the whole of 2008. One taxi firm's proprietor instructed his drivers to use the bus lane on every journey from Heathrow airport into London, calculating that any fines they were unlucky enough to pick up would be worth the time saved. There were also occasions when fuming motorists noticed a cavalcade of private cars with police outriders flashing by in the bus lane, bringing Tony Blair and his advisers home from official trips overseas.

John Prescott, when he was the Secretary of State for the Environment and Transport, opened the bus lane in 1999 to speed up the journeys of air travellers trying to get from Heathrow into London.

It was one of many actions taken by the Labour government to encourage people to leave their cars at home and travel on public transport. Labour believed that discouraging car use would be good for the environment, but the Conservatives call that attitude "the war on motorists".

"Scrapping the M4 bus lane is symbolic of this Government's decision to end the war on the motorist," the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, said yesterday. "It ends the injustice suffered by thousands of drivers who sit in traffic next to an empty lane day in, day out."

But not everyone is pleased to see the bus lane disappear. Taxi drivers now face being stuck in the same queues as other motorists, while their exasperated passengers sit and watch the meter tick away. "We estimate that almost 4,000 black cabs use that lane every day, coming into town, so it's a disappointment for us," Bob Oddy, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, said. "It was an advantage for our passengers to be using the bus lane rather than being stuck."

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

    Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat