Push to extend Edinburgh bus lane hours amid warning vehicles 'will slow to walking pace' as times soar

Transport guru Professor David Begg urges all-day bus lanes and greater enforcement

Increasing journey times for buses in Edinburgh must be reversed or they will slow to walking pace and only be used by the frail, transport guru Professor David Begg has warned.

The former city council transport convener, who introduced Greenways bus lanes in the capital in 1997 which cut journey times, said buses must be given greater priority over other traffic.

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Former City of Edinburgh Council transport convenor Professor David Begg with his dog Buster. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)Former City of Edinburgh Council transport convenor Professor David Begg with his dog Buster. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
Former City of Edinburgh Council transport convenor Professor David Begg with his dog Buster. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman) | LISA FERGUSON

Prof Begg, who is also a former Labour UK government transport adviser, said bus journey times in the city had increased by 20 per cent on some routes over the past ten years despite contactless fare payment speeding up boarding and reduced traffic during the Covid pandemic.

He wants the city council to extend all bus lane operating hours from 7am to 7pm daily - known as 7-7-7 - rather than just planning to trial a single route, Lothian’s 44 between Balerno and Musselburgh.

Prof Begg said all-day bus lanes were needed because of a big increase in off-peak traffic and at weekends, including vans delivering online orders.

He told The Scotsman: “I suspect there's been a change in traffic patterns affecting all cities. You don't see a big growth in car traffic, but a huge growth in the number of delivery vans, which will be slowing up buses, especially if bus priority isn't properly enforced.

“Congestion used to be the biggest constraint on traffic volumes - as it got bad, people changed the time of day they travelled, and it dampened car traffic growth.

“But congestion does the exact opposite with delivery vehicles - as congestion gets worse, you need more vehicles to maintain delivery times.”

Prof Begg said he feared for the impact of that on buses - Edinburgh’s main form of public transport

He said buses’ plight would be even worse without passengers being able to pay by card rather than cash, which had reduced “dwell time” at bus stops by two thirds from 6 to 2 seconds per person.

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Former City of Edinburgh Council transport convenor Professor David Begg said an increase in delivery vans was adding to congestion. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)Former City of Edinburgh Council transport convenor Professor David Begg said an increase in delivery vans was adding to congestion. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
Former City of Edinburgh Council transport convenor Professor David Begg said an increase in delivery vans was adding to congestion. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman) | LISA FERGUSON

Prof Begg, who will address Edinburgh Bus Users Group’s annual general meeting on Thursday, said bus lanes should also be more strictly enforced to deter other vehicles using or blocking them.

He said: “I would go straightaway to 7-7-7 bus priority on all bus lanes - that would make the difference. You don't want to confuse motorists - you've either got bus lanes or you haven't. I would start by repairing the potholes and painting the bus lanes green again, with more cameras to enforce them.

“My worry is that although Edinburgh has the best bus company in the UK - Lothian - journey times are getting longer and that means you will not get the modal shift [from cars]. Since journey times are increasing by 1 per cent every year, in 30 years’ time we are going to have 30 per cent fewer bus passengers.

“Buses are going to travel at walking speed and that means the passengers are going to be mostly people with some sort of infirmity and can't walk.”

Prof Begg said it was vital that buses remained an attractive transport option for the overall wellbeing of cities like Edinburgh.

He said: “You can't have a successful economy unless you change how we travel because the car is an incredibly inefficient way to move people. Transport is a means to an end - how do you have a strong economy, achieve social inclusion, levelling up and tackle environmental issues from air pollution to climate change?

“You can't tackle any of them if car dependency increases. You almost have a limit on how far the economy can grow and you have pollution problems from cars powered by fossil fuels.”

Prof Begg meanwhile expressed mixed views about the Scottish Government’s target of cutting traffic by 20 per cent by 2030. He praised the goal being set, but said ministers had yet to decide how to achieve it.

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He said: “It's like Hibs targeting a place in Europe without having the resources or the personnel to deliver on it. When you set a target, you need to make sure you've got the policies [needed].

“But at least they [the Scottish Government] set targets - in 14 years of Conservative government [at Westminster], they never talked about changing how we travel and responsible use of the car.”

The City of Edinburgh Council said 7-7-7 bus lanes would become the norm if the planned trial, to be considered by councillors in August, was successful. Transport convener Scott Arthur said: “The misuse of bus lanes increases bus journey times, disadvantaging the thousands of people who want to choose safe, reliable and punctual bus services.

“We must have the powers, funding and measures in place to keep the city moving. This is why I remain disappointed the Scottish Government has paused funding for bus priority measures and won’t yet allow bus lanes to be enforced using bus-mounted cameras.

“Nonetheless, in recognition of the impact caused by the abuse of bus lanes, we have increased our bus lane penalty charge level to £100, in line with parking fines.

“Public transport is at the heart of our plans to cut congestion and we are drawing up proposals for a trial 7-7-7 route in the city, which we hope to have operating later in the year.

“It’s important to have as much information as possible before considering wider implementation of 7-7-7 routes and this trial will better inform us regarding the benefits of such a scheme. If this trial works, 7-7-7 bus lanes will become the norm in Edinburgh.”

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A spokesperson for Lothian said: “As we look to encourage the use of public transport in support of the Scottish Government wider environmental goals, we continue to work with our local authority shareholders to ensure effective bus priority measures which support the provision of a reliable standard of operational service for our customers.”

Transport Scotland said the Bus Partnership Fund for 2024/25 had been “paused” following a near 9 per cent real terms cut in its capital budget from the UK government.

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