Posted by: wesleyjohnston | February 21, 2013

All Taxis in Bus Lanes – Why I Am Opposed

The DRD is currently proposing a change to the use of bus lanes. In Northern Ireland, taxis are divided into two types – public hire, which can be hailed from ths side of the road, and private hire which can only pick up pre-booked fares. Currently only public hire taxis can use bus lanes that have a sign saying “permitted taxi” (although the DRD’s own statistics suggest substantial numbers of private hires illegally use them too – up to 60% on the Lisburn Road, for example). However, this arrangement is being changed by the DOE so that there is no longer to be a distinction between private and public hire taxis. This means that the DRD have to decide if and how to allow all taxis to use bus lanes. Other options were also given, including a very sensible option that would allow wheelchair-accessible taxis to use bus lanes, but not other taxis. The DRD held a public consultation from June until September 2012. You will find the consultation document here.

This public consultation received a number of responses, of which 86% were opposed to the measure. A high percentage of these came from cyclists, who feel, probably correctly, that it will make cycling less safe and discourage continued uptake of cycling. You can see a reasoned cycling perspective over on the NI Greenways blog. There was also a rally today in Belfast City Centre. However, there are other reasons too why the measures can be opposed, not least their impact on buses. The word on the grapevine is that the DRD seems likely to proceed and allow all taxis to use bus lanes, despite the opposition.

At the time of the consultation I responded to the consultation and, having weighed up the evidence, came down against the proposals. For me, this was due to the impact on buses and the impact on cyclists. It should not be misunderstood as a “cycling” issue only. As my position seems to have taken quite a few people by surprise (given that I often speak in defence of many travellers’ quite rational decision to use a car) you will find below my response to the consultation, submitted last September. This sets out why I believe this would be a very poor decision.

Response to the Taxis In Bus Lanes Consultation Document

Dr Wesley Johnston – 19 September 2012

This submission is made in my capacity as:

  • A historian who has studied the history and impact of Belfast’s road transport system in detail;
  • A commentator on the local road network via a web site at;
  • A user of the Northern Ireland road network;
  • A resident of Belfast.


  1. I welcome the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes to the use of bus lanes by all taxis.
  2. I strongly oppose the recommendation that “all taxis be allowed access on implementation of the new licensing arrangements” (para 8.1) and would question how this illogical conclusion can possibly have been reached from the evidence presented.


  1. Sections 6 and 7 detail a number of reasons why allowing all taxis in bus lanes is undesirable. I would contend that the conclusion in paragraph 8.1 is not justified by the evidence presented.
  2. For example, there are 1532 private hire taxis in Belfast, compared to 506 public hire taxis (para 6.3). The proposal would at least quadruple the number of taxis permitted to use bus lanes in Belfast.
  3. Since it is also stated that allowing “additional vehicles in the bus lane at that stage would probably contribute to further reduced bus journey speeds” (para 6.6 i), and that DRD admit that “it is highly likely that this will impact on the performance of bus lanes in terms of bus speeds and journey times” (para 7.4), it would seem bizarre for DRD to go ahead and create precisely this state of affairs.
  4. The DRD also admit that there is “little evidence from other UK cities, of any movement to allow private hire vehicles into bus lanes during the hours of operation” (para 6.6 ii). Indeed, the current situation is “broadly similar to the rest of GB” (para 6.8). There is no pressure to change this.
  5. Indeed, the 2008 survey quoted found that “the only group that supported allowing private hire taxis into bus lanes was the private hire taxi drivers” (para 6.9). This suggests there is practically no public desire to allow all taxis to use bus lanes. If this proposal is implemented, the DRD will be basing its decision purely on the pressure from a tiny minority who have an obvious vested interest in profiting from faster journey times, and will be disadvantaging a great many more people in the process. This is fundamentally unfair and unjust.
  6. Finally, the use of the justification that the impact may not be so severe because “a sizeable portion of non-permitted taxis already illegally use the bus lanes” (para 7.6) is shameful. Bus lanes have been implemented in Belfast at a high cost to general traffic, and such a high figure of illegal use (60% in one case, para 7.6) should result in a renewed resolve to enforce bus lanes, not to simply acquiesce and give up. This is a shocking position for a body with a statutory duty to manage bus lanes to adopt on this issue.


  1. The document makes no serious attempt to assess the impact of the proposal on cycle safety.
  2. For example, the accident history given for bicycles dates from almost a decade ago, and there have been significant increases in the number of cyclists since then. Very few cyclists used bus lanes between 2001 and 2004, and pointing to the lack of accidents involving cyclists in bus lanes is as likely to be a reflection of the small number of cyclists as it is to be a measure of the danger posed to them.
  3. DRD have presented no credible recent research to assess the impact of this proposal on cyclists.
  4. Cycling is still in its infancy in Northern Ireland, and the DRD has as a stated policy a desire to encourage an increase cycling. As an occasional cyclist myself, I have experienced the difference between cycling with general traffic and cycling on a bus lane. There is no comparison. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that the more cars that share a lane with cyclists the more accidents will occur.
  5. Taxi drivers typically drive their cars in the same manner as all other car drivers. Unlike bus drivers, they have not undergone special training for operating public transport. Unlike buses, which are too wide to ‘squeeze’ past a cyclist, the driver of a smaller vehicle such as a car can be tempted to ‘squeeze’ past, endangering the cyclist in the process. Opening the cycle lanes to all taxis could quadruple the number of vehicles allowed to use them, and will act to discourage a further increase in cycling.


  1. Bus lanes have been implemented to give buses some measure of priority over general traffic. Allowing all taxis to use them would represent an unacceptable watering-down of Belfast’s public transport infrastructure, at a time when it is badly needed. Such a policy would be almost unprecedented in the UK and must not happen in this form.
  2. The DRD’s conclusion that all taxis should be permitted is illogical and unjustified by the evidence presented.
  3. It is acknowledged that banning all taxis would be difficult to justify since public hire taxis have been permitted to use bus lanes for some years now. However, since most public hire taxis are accessible to disabled persons, option II, ie that bus lanes be open only to wheelchair-accessible taxis, would seem to be the obvious option to select.
  4. I therefore urge the DRD to select option II, ie “Access to wheelchair accessible taxis only”.


  1. It’s even more fundamental than that. Taxis INCREASE the number of miles driven in a city as they have to drive between a drop-off, and the next pickup.

    Imagine two people who live 3 miles apart. Person A has to travel 5 miles. Person B has to travel 2 miles. For them to use personal cars, the total road distance traveled is 7 miles. If they both order a taxi, and the same taxi does the journeys, the taxi travels 10 miles. And this doesn’t include the distance the taxi has to travel to pick up the first person.

    Taxis ALWAYS increase road use unless they’re shared (and apart from the Taxi Buses which operate on the Shankill/Falls roads, none do this on any regular basis).

    Taxis may save on the number of city centre car park spaces needed, but this isn’t the argument here.

    I believe taxis shouldn’t be allowed to use bus lanes, unless it is carrying at least 2 passengers (actually, my preference is if every licenced seat in the taxi is occupied). This is the only sensible way of reducing road use.

  2. Surely a starting point would be to consider what proportion of all journey’s are currently represented by taxi’s. I can’t imagine the figure is particuarly high.

    I am a keen cyclist in London and I have to say that I have no objections to taxi’s using the bus lanes. My rationale is quite simple. Bus lanes are not cycle lanes. By this measure it stands to reason that cyclists should expect to share this road space.

    What is realy required is dedicated infrastructure for cyclists. This debate ia heating up in London. The GLA is to vote on Monday to determine whether TFL should spend 40% more on cycle infrastructure bringing the share of total transort expenditure on cycle infrastructure into line with modal share!

    Start building dedicated infrastructure! Belfast is well suited for this mode of transport.

  3. I don’t particularly have a position on this as whther or not a taxi uses a bus lane will not affect my use of the road in any great way. But I will say this. Having bus lanes at all in my opinion is a terrible use of road space that cannot in any way be justified due to their incredibly low usuage. Therefore it would seem fairly logical to me that allowing taxis in these lanes is actually making better use of this space and as a result is making better jouney times for the average motorist, who in a lot of cases has lost 50% of the available road space.

    • The only issue I would take with your statement is that it assumes that bus traffic will not increase. The new routes in Belfast city centre have been installed to serve the future bus rapid transit system.

  4. Andrew, how intensively used do you think a bus lane has to be before it can be considered efficient use of space? X amount of buses or passengers per hour?

    If we forget about the role taxis play in peak hour commuting (which is probably negligible) for a second, I’d like to point out something about Stephen’s comment about taxis leading to more road mileage. Car use in itself isn’t the real cause of congestion, it’s the over use of it. In Northern Ireland car ownership usually leads to a driver becoming completely car dependent- that is that once they own a car they will never again consider travelling by public transport beside the odd bus to the airport once a year or the taxi home when you’re drunk on a Saturday night. There are relatively few people here who use their car occasionally and public transport often. A portion of the people using taxis are people who would usually use public transport but for the odd occasion where a taxi is more suitable.

    If we are to reduce car use we have to recognise that there will still be journeys that people need to make that require a car- even if they only need to do this a few times a year. Taxis, or even better, car clubs are a good way to mop up this demand. However I don’t suggest that this means they should have the use of bus lanes.

  5. The ridiculous thing about the proposal is that it ignores perceptions, and sometimes perceptions are everything.

    If cyclists consider bus lanes to be unsafe due to increased numbers of taxis, especially if some are inconsiderate, they won’t use them, which means they’ll be using footpaths instead.

    Wheelchair accessible taxis was always the only fair way forward. It gives a massive incentive to taxi firms to buck up their ideas too.

    • Simple solution. Build dedicated infrastructure for cyclists.

      European experience shows that until this happens the modal share of cycling will remain tiny.

  6. There is one fundamental flaw in the consultation process which everyone has overlooked or was not aware of. It stated that there were just below 2000 private hire taxis in the belfast area wishing to use bus lanes, however this figure is closer to 4000 additional vehicles potentially using these every day and that is not counting the other 6000 taxis outside belfast who if they choose could come into belfast to work. Due to a misrepresentation of the facts of the accurate figures by DVA to DRD the outcome of the wrong decision by the minister could be catastrophic. I believe only accessible taxis should be allowed to use buslanes wether public hire or private hire as this would total around 700 vehicles including the current 500 public hire which use them now. If you need clarification of the misrepresentation and how it came about do not hesitate to contact myself @ for the FACTS. This has been highlighted with ministers within DRD in writing recently and should not be ignored under pressure by private hire taxi operators like belfasts big two companys.

  7. I am more annoyed with Belfast bus lanes on the following:
    – Motorists who disregard the bus lanes at peak time with impunity, either ignorantly for the full length, or with a left hand indicator on a good distance from when the bus lane ends
    – Politicians, chauffeured in armoured Skodas and SUVs, seem to be able to use these lanes as ZIL lanes
    – The fact that on narrow S2 roads with bus lanes, such as the Cregagh Road, there does not seem to be a clearway enforced in the opposite direction, such that cars and delivery lorries can stop, forcing oncoming traffic into the opposite lane (often at speed!), which in turn forces traffic to encroach upon the bus lane

    Regarding taxis using the bus lanes, “McCausland lanes”, public hire taxis can already do so, and there appeared to be some confusion with private hire taxis with some already using these lanes. Private hire licencing should include a short test which includes dealing with cyclists.

    I welcome the blurring of distinction between public and private hire, as this often causes confusion for visitors and tourists. I would go further, and would wish that private hire taxis operated on a European-style basis, with standardised taxi sign lights signifying availability, standardisation of colour and an optional depot sign on one of the doors signifying the company.

  8. […] lanes. Advisory cycle lanes are really parking lay-bys; bus lanes are bus and taxi lanes (also here) and Belfast on the Move pretty much ignores cycling as a serious means of transport, relegating […]

  9. […] The case presented by the Department for Regional Development (DRD) for allowing all taxis into bus …. Private taxi firms are the only group lobbying for the proposal, and no compelling argument has been brought in favour. It remains the ‘easy’ solution for DRD’s dilemma posed by DOE taxi reform, yet transforms and exaggerates a small scale inconvenience for taxi drivers into a major worry for (current and potential) cyclists in bus lanes. […]

  10. […] All taxis in bus lanes – why I am opposed (NI Roads, Feb 2013) […]

  11. […] 21 Feb 2013 – All Taxis in Bus Lanes – Why I Am Opposed ( […]

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