Motorcycle Use of Bus Lanes

Published on 29 March 2007 by Gill

In considering whether motorcycles should have access to bus lanes, some wider aspects should first be considered in order to put them in an appropriate context.

What are Motorcycles?

Power assisted cycle – 200 W electrical – accessible from age 14

Moped – up to 50 cc/45 km/h – accessible from age 16

A1 Light Motorcycle – scooter or motorcycle up to 125 cc/11 kW – accessible from age 17

Middle weight motorcycle / Super scooter (typically 250 cc – 650 cc) – full licence required – ideal for long distance commuting.

Large capacity motorcycle – various styles – readily capable of a range of journeys

All motorcycles can make a positive contribution as part of an integrated transport policy. After all, a policy cannot be regarded as truly integrated unless all modes which have a rôle to play are included.

Positive Attributes of Motorcycles

They reduce congestion and circumvent it when caused by other vehicles

Motorcycles limit the impact of traffic on the environment. They have the knock on effect of reducing pollution and CO2 emissions through smaller size and the ability to avoid being subject to making intermittent progress.

They increases the efficient use of land by occupying less road space and particularly parking areas where up to 7 motorcycles can occupy one car space.

They address social exclusion particularly for the impecunious and those poorly served by public transport with distances too great to walk or cycle.

Motorcycles supplement public transport by being available when and where it is not.

Motorcycles provide choice by being the most practical alternative to single occupancy car use while offering even greater flexibility in use.

Modal shift to motorcycles will limit the effects of anticipated traffic growth.

More reliable journeys by motorcycle reduce commuters' stress.

Increased motorcycle use can provide relief for overcrowded public transport enabling it to be restructured and expanded encouraging car drivers unlikely to use a motorcycle to change to public transport. 

Limitations of Motorcycles

Not suitable for everyone such as the infirm and severely disabled

Limited carrying capacity of 2 persons and relatively little luggage

Exposed to the elements – some motorcycles include weather protection and protective clothing is very practical 

Drawbacks of Motorcycles

Air Quality

-Motorcycles have been subject to increasingly stringent EC emissions limits since 1999 with limits equivalent to closed loop catalyst equipped cars being implemented from 2006 to 2007.

-Their efficient use in congested conditions (enhanced by bus lane access) reduces pollutant emissions


-PTWs are not inherently noisy. New machines are subject to noise limits under EC Type-Approval with machines in use required to use BS AU and CE marked exhaust systems

-Noise nuisance is predominantly an enforcement issue


-Theft is a problem but is not insurmountable

-A range of secondary locks, immobilisers, alarms and part marking systems harden motorcycles as targets for theft

-Secure parking using street furniture and CCTV deters theft.


-Motorcycles with other road user groups except children are subject to casualty reduction targets of a 40% reduction of numbers of Killed and Seriously Injured and a 10% reduction by rate of Slight Injuries between 2000 and 2010 using a 1994/8 baseline

-Numbers of motorcycle casualties initially increased over the base line but have since fallen back. Meanwhile the numbers of registered motorcycles, users and distances travelled have increased as well.Except for fatalities, motorcycle casualty rates have fallen.

-The casualty reduction targets do not give motorcycle users parity with other road user groups by failing to take into account their increased usage or target perpetrators rather than victims of crashes. The Government's Motorcycling Strategy has required that casualty rates should be used as a secondary indicator.

-The main causes of motorcycle crashes are loss of control in rural areas and urban collisions predominantly caused by other road users.

-Motorcycles are claimed to collide with pedestrians and cyclists at a higher rate than cars collide with them but the responsibility for the collisions has not been assigned.

-The reduction of car occupant KSIs is predominantly through better occupant protection which does not readily lend itself to motorcycles.

-In considering casualty reduction and causation motorcycles are not given parity with other vulnerable road users

The following chart sets out motorcycle casualties and usage: 




Motorcycles and Bus Lanes – Documentation and Needs

The 1998 White Paper, A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone recommended properly monitored bus lane access trials by local authorities.

DETR's LTP Guidance in March 2000 made several positive references to the motorcycle:

Providing viable alternative transport

Taking account of needs of riders

Provision at transport interchanges

Provision of parking

The need for road maintenance,

An affordable alternative to the car

Recommended disaggregation from traffic reduction targets

Inclusion in the transport hierarchy between public transport and taxis,

Recommended monitored bus lane accesses schemes.

The DfT LTP Guidance for 2005 was less positive in that it concentrates on outputs rather than how they are achieved with only one somewhat negative reference to motorcycles. However since its main tenets include:

Giving transport priority locally

Addressing congestionEnhancing accessibility

Promoting value for moneyMaking better use of the infrastructure

Improving air qualityMotorcycles have a clear rôle in helping to achieve these objectives, with one means doing so being by granting them access tobus lanes. On completion of their Local Transport Plans, an increasing number of local authorities are proposing motorcycleaccess to bus lanes and setting up motorcycle forums.

The 10-Year Transport Plan and Planning Policy Guidance Note 13 - Transport also makes references to the advantages of thePTW in transport strategies and planning which can be enhanced by bus lane access.

A Parliamentary Ten-Minute Rule Bill calling for all bus lanes to permit motorcycle access was raised by Bill Wiggin, MP in November, 2003. Although there was inadequate parliamentary time to take it beyond its first reading, it was given wide support and accepted by MPs.

The Final Report by the Advisory Group on Motorcycling made a number of recommendations in relation to bus lane access. It called for the DfT to adopt a neutral attitude towards motorcycle access to bus lanes rather than the current negative recommendation and that the advice in Keeping Buses Moving Local Transport Note 1/97 should drop its recommendation that motorcycles should not normally be allowed in bus lanes. Research on bus lane access has indicated that there are no adverse effects on road safety but other impacts are not conclusive. While research continues, the DfT has been recommended to adopt a neutral position in advising local authorities. The Government's Motorcycling Strategy has also called for a more neutral position o be adopted in Local Transport Note 1/97.

The Opposition raised amendments to the Road Safety Bill in 2005 and 2006 calling for access by motorcycles to bus lanes where the direction of travel is the same as other traffic. The ensuing debate called for a default where motorcycles would bepermitted access unless it was stated otherwise with local authorities being required to justify the decision. However, the Minister while seeing no reason why motorcycles should not normally be allowed access to bus lanes claimed that local authorities already had discretion on motorcycle access to bus lanes and that they should be given more positive guidance in which Keeping Buses Moving Local Transport Note 1/97 was being rewritten. There remains the issue of standardising signs permitting access which, with local authorities' requirement to seek DfT permission to use them, acts as an impediment togranting motorcycle access to bus lanes. The amendments were withdrawn.

Arguments from the pedal cycle lobby against motorcycle access to bus lanes have largely been discredited particularly since they have adopted the premise that bus lanes are a cycling facility. From Advanced Stop Lines surveys of cyclists' attitudes it is also apparent that the spokespersons from the cycle lobby do not represent the views of ordinary cyclists most of whom arenotaverse to sharing facilities with PTWs.

We ask that local authorities recognise the value of the motorcycle by considering:

Its role in reducing congestion.Its reduced take-up of land from other transport modes.Setting minimum secure standards for parking. Introducing formal parking facilities at transport interchanges

Changing facilities and lockers in major town centre destinations and at Park & Ride sites.Recognising its rôle in addressing social exclusionExempting motorcycles from road pricing and workplace parking charges.Its inclusion in Green Travel Plans and TravelwisAllowing access to Advanced Stop LinesAllowing motorcyclists to join cyclistsand taxi cabs in their bus lanes.

Bus Lanes - Reasons for Motorcycle Access

Offering convenience to motorcyclists who are already contributing to alleviating local traffic problems.

For local authorities wary of encouraging motorcycle use, access to bus lanes will facilitate their existing use.

Seen to be a way of facilitating more practical and sustainable alternative transport modes.

Making more efficient use of the existing infrastructure - a major tenet of the Highways Agency policy and the 2005 LTPGuidance.

Improving the advantages that motorcycles already have over other vehicles.

Encouraging car users to consider alternative means of travel.Enhancing air quality and addresses climate change by permitting motorcycles to make better progress and operate more efficiently.

Motorcycles (even mopeds) do not delay buses in bus lanes as pedal cycles do.

DfT remains willing to help with the monitoring of the progress of motorcycle access schemes.

Enforcement is not an anticipated problem since motorcycles are a category distinct from cars. Allowing access by private hire vehicles is likely to create greater problems.The use of signs with a motorcycle icon is soon to be standardised and will not require permission form DfT.

Bus Lanes - Motorcycle Access Precedents

Motorcycle access to bus lanes has been a normal feature in many European cities for several years. i.e. cities in Italy and Spain, especially Barcelona , and Stockholm in Sweden .

Bristol has operated a permanent motorcycle access since 1996 following a preceding experiment with Reading 's motorcycle access scheme made permanent in 1999.

Motorcycle access to bus lanes has been made permanent in Birmingham , Colchester , Bath and Hull.

Motorcycles have had access to the non-car lane in Moorgate in the City of London for some considerable time.

Motorcycle access was trialed by Transport for London with Department for Transport support on three corridor sites in central London on Transport for London Roads Network (TLRN) roads since early 2003. They comprise the A41Finchley Road between Hendon Way and Queens Grove the A23 Streatham High Road – Brixton Road between Camberwell New Road and Streatham Common South and the A13 East India Dock Road between Butchers Row and Abbot Road. The outcome of the trials in an interimreport has been positive but deemed inconclusive. It was also shown that the data was contaminated as a result of roadworks on one of the trial sites which put a negative aspect on the data. It was agreed to continue with monitoring although the consideration to conducting trials at additional sites in which the traffic mix will not change from external factors as was the case through the introduction of the Congestion Charge during the course of the trials was dropped. The process was completed n 2006 with a final report scheduled for September.

The ( London ) Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames has two bus lanes to which PTWs have been permitted access viz.

Permanent access without monitoring on sections of Kingston Road/Cambridge Road since March 2003 when a bus lane first became operational. No complaints have been received to date. A trial on an existing bus lane on London Road since March 2004 with the only potentially negative outcome being thereductionof pay and display car parking bays.

The London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames has installed bus lanes in London Road in Twickenham and Eton Rise/ParadiseRoad in Richmond in June 2004 with CCTV monitoring and the collection of accident data.

Westminster City Council began conducting trials in 2006 on 8 bus lanes where motorcycles have been permitted access with noapparent problems to date.

Swindon Borough Council agreed to allow motorcycle access to its bus lane network when it was expanded in 2003 and has been conducting trials during 2004 on two arterial corridors in Queens Road and Quickdale Road to which PTWs have access. Oncompletion of the trial and in spite of a delay in reporting back, indications were inconclusive. However, there was no negativeevidence against motorcycle access.

All bus lanes in Northern Ireland have had PTW access since early 2004 with no adverse reports as a result.

After 23 months of monitoring, the Highways Agency allowed access of motorcycles to the M4 bus lane in July, 2002 on the basis of improving safety. Ongoing monitoring has not resulted in any negative reports.

The Highways Agency is considering allowing motorcycle use of the bus lane on the A6 in to Loughborough and have nearly completed their ‘before' monitoring.PTWs are granted access to High Occupancy Vehicle ( HOV ) Lanes in Leeds and South Gloucestershire.

For the M1 Car Share Lane project which involved the widening of the motorway between Junctions 7 and 10, motorcycles with rider only were initially to be allowed access when the lanes were designated High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes. The project team appeared to have second thoughts when they were renamed Car Share Lanes. However, at the time of writing, their recommendation to the Minister is that motorcycles with rider only should be given access.

Guidelines for motorcycle access to bus lanes are being drawn up in Norfolk York has indicated that it is likely to permit motorcycle access to its bus lanes.

Following the positive experience in Colchester, Essex County Council is permitting motorcycle access to all bus lanes in the county unless there are compelling reasons not to do so its 2005 Local Transport Plan.

Unitary authority, Peterborough is also to grant motorcycle access to its bus lanes under its 2005 Local Transport Plan.

The Surrey Motorcyclists Forum in its final report has recommended that Surrey County Council should permit motorcycle ccess to bus lanes in the county.

After trials on two sites in Chaddesden and Mickelover Derby City Council made access to these bus lanes permanent in June 2006 with motorcycle access to be considered automatically for new bus lane schemes. 

Bus Lanes - Safety Aspects

As stated under the drawbacks of motorcycles, while the numbers of motorcyclists' casualties have increased, this has largely been commensurate with the increase in usage with the rate (for all severities except fatalities) falling. The Government's Motorcycling Strategy has called for casualty rate to be used as a secondary indicator. Most motorcycle casualties from single vehicle accidents which account for a high proportion of killed and seriously injured take place in rural areas where there are no bus lanes.

The majority of accidents which take place in urban areas are at speeds of under 40 mph. UK and European studies have shown that the majority of multi-vehicle accidents involving motorcyclists are the other driver's fault. Access to bus lanes will limit the threats from other traffic by segregating motorcycles from the road users most likely to collide with them.

Following the introduction of the M4 bus lane which did not permit motorcycle access, sideswipe accidents involving motorcycles filtering through traffic had increased by 75%. Granting access to the bus lane effectively segregating motorcycles from most other traffic was expected to reduce these incidents and there has been no evidence to the contrary.

Riders, in practice, do not abuse the privilege of bus lane access by riding recklessly. Speeds are largely regulated by theprogress of buses.

Pedal cycles are in bus lanes by default since this is safer than their being placed outside where faster vehicles are expected to pass either side of them.

For existing alleged conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists, it is not known who is at fault. Motorcyclists should not automatically be held responsible.

Bus lane access will reduce motorcyclists' conflicts with pedestrians by making them more visible to one another than when the motorcycle is filtering through traffic. Similarly cyclists and motorcyclists will more readily see one another in a bus lane.Even a large motorcycle is highly manoeuvrable and occupies a fraction of the bus lane's width presenting less of a threat to a cyclist than a bus or taxi of considerably greater mass and occupying most of the lane's width.

There is no evidence of safety being compromised where motorcycles use bus lanes and the prejudiced perceptions of some cyclists and ‘representatives' of cycling groups should not be accepted as evidence of increased risk. As stated earlier, this is not the perception of most rank and file cyclists.

A 1996 TRL video survey in Bristol (TR/TT/192/96) was inconclusive with regard to effects on safety and failed to detect any collisions involving motorcycles or pedal cycles or conflicts between the two groups. However, in recorded incidents, motorcyclists were shown to behave more responsibly than other user groups, particularly cyclists.

Bus Lanes - Cost Implications

Existing signs already display the classes of vehicles which can use bus lanes. These can be inexpensively modified by the use of stickers displaying a motorcycle icon. This exercise was undertaken for Bristol 's already extensive network for buses.

If a monitoring exercise is required, DfT may assist with the costs of monitoring outside London and TfL may help with the London Boroughs.

If access to bus lanes by motorcycles is permitted, it will be necessary to publicise the change which is likely to incur a small cost although this can generate positive publicity for the local authority concerned.

In granting motorcycle access to bus lanes, no other changes to the infrastructure are considered to be essential although if access is to be improved, it will be optimised by providing better motorcycle parking. These are low cost schemes which make the best use of the infrastructure as recommended in the 2005 LTP Guidance.

Last reviewed/updated 20/06/06