The caring, sharing way to get to work

Cars with more than one occupant are to get rush-hour priority in Leeds, writes Esther Leach
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The Independent Online
"IT'S A very sociable thing to do," said council official John Wallis. "People will find new friends in their own street or at work ... they will meet people they didn't realise lived a few doors away."

Mr Wallis, senior assistant director of transportation at Leeds City Council, is talking about using the country's first traffic lane dedicated to rush-hour car sharing which comes into operation in the city tomorrow. He expects there will be some cheating by those who don't feel particularly sociable during the early morning drive to work.

But he's wise to the tricks. "We've heard the stories about inflatable dolls in passenger seats and the subject of hearses ... well, they must have two people in the cab - a body in the back doesn't count as a passenger."

The tricky one, he admitted, was the case of a pregnant woman. "We haven't quite worked that one out yet," said Mr Wallis. The cost of cheating is an on-the-spot pounds 20 fine or up to pounds 200 if the case goes to court.

There is no chance of missing the "priority lane for high occupancy vehicles" which is mapped out like a bus lane on the inside lane of the A647 Stanningley Road, a busy dual carriageway into Leeds.

Large blue and white signs announce cars carrying two people or more only are allowed to use the lane which Mr Wallis says will cut the number of vehicles coming into the city and shave up to five minutes off the journey to work.

A lay-by on the route is dedicated to a police patrol motorcyclists, partly paid for by Leeds Council, who will enforce the correct use of the lane under the Road Traffic Act 1984, which allows the local authority to implement an experimental traffic regulation order.

"The benefits will be immediate: a reduction in pollution and congestion," said Mr Wallis. "The worst scenario is that people will resist using it and there is a lot of infringement of the rules. But we don't think that will happen. People want to improve their journey to work."

The results of surveys carried out last year along Stanningley Road show that one third of all vehicles carry two-thirds of all commuters during peak periods, says the council. Giving priority to these vehicles will speed journeys for the majority of people travelling towards Leeds.

On average 2,000 vehicles carry 3,645 people on the route during the morning peak hour. About 1,420 single drivers might experience delay as a result of priority given to other vehicles. "However, if just a small number of single motorists can be persuaded to share, all motorists will benefit," added Mr Wallis.

Companies along the route have been urged to encourage employees to think about sharing the ride into work. One of the city's major employers, the supermarket chain Asda, has dedicated 50 spaces at its headquarters car park to people who share the rush-hour ride.

A spokesman, Nick Agarwal, said it's expected that the number of car spaces will be increased: "The car park is full by 8am. There are no reserved spaces and every one has to fight for a space but car sharing spaces are held open until 9am which almost guarantees car sharers a space.

"It can mean a few more minutes in bed because you know there is a space free for you for a little longer. We think the car sharing lane experiment is a good idea although the proof will be in the pudding. Leeds is a very traffic congested city. Anything to help is always welcome."

Leeds claims the pounds 450,000 trial is the first of its kind on an urban road in Europe, although a stretch of trunk road in Madrid has been operating a similar scheme since 1995. Ride sharing lanes have been used widely in the US since the 1970s.