Bus lanes put the squeeze on cars

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday 21 May 2002

Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday 21 May 2002 Page 1

Bus lanes put the squeeze on cars

Author: Darren Goodsir, and Joseph Kerr

Traffic-clogged Parramatta Road will become even more congested because the State Government is about to introduce bus-only lanes from the city to Leichhardt part of its campaign to push people onto public transport.

It means cars will be forced to merge into two lanes for a distance of 2 1/2 kilometres along the major artery, while at the same time more bus-only and transit lanes are imposed on the North Shore and in the east and west.

The Transport Minister, Carl Scully, is alarmed at the latest figures which reveal a decline in the proportion of commuters taking public transport including a 5 per cent fall in bus use.

In response, he has finalised a $45 million, three-year blueprint for more bus-only transit lanes and clearways.

The Household Travel Survey, a snapshot of commuting patterns to be released today, shows a continuing drift from trains, buses and ferries.

Only 11 per cent of weekday trips are made on public transport, adding urgency to the Government's need to double non-car travel in 10 years to meet its ambitious air quality targets.

The survey also confirms that the 3.30pm rush hour, when parents collect schoolchildren, is a bigger traffic bottleneck than the late-afternoon peak.

Agitated bus operators, increasingly jammed in traffic and faced with dwindling passenger numbers, want Mr Scully to aggressively limit car access during peak times.

The first phase of the minister's blueprint will see 6.5 kilometres of extra bus-only lanes in Sydney, and a peak-hour transit lane on Victoria Road in both directions from the Anzac Bridge to Gladesville.

By July, the existing 45 kilometres of bus-only lanes will be marked with red asphalt up from the present 21 kilometres. Compliance will be enforced in a blitz on peak-hour car travel.

The Parramatta Road lane will begin at the Balmain Road intersection in Leichhardt, running to the top of Broadway. Eastbound, the lane will operate in morning and afternoon peaks, with buses needing to get back into the city quickly for peak hours.

There will also be improved priority for buses on Warringah Road on the northern beaches, as well as in Crown Street and Oxford Street in the city.

The Government is also spending $250,000 to expand transit lanes and clearways. Another $600,000 will fund a study to improve the flow on the clogged Military Road.

Roads and Traffic Authority research shows that despite difficulties in policing the transit lanes, cars using them average 40kmh compared with 22kmh in normal lanes.

Mr Scully's bus plans represent a significant shift in transport policy before the launching of a 90-kilometre network of bus-only freeways.

But they still fall short of addressing complaints by bus operators in Sydney's west, who say 87 intersections need new priority measures.

Only one measure will improve bus routes in the west, where half of all households have two or more cars a one-kilometre bus-only lane on Pennant Hills Road and Castle Hill Road, which links with M2 city services.

"The Government recognises the importance of making bus travel easier and more attractive as a key part of its strategy to relieve congestion on city roads," Mr Scully said.

The Parramatta Road plan would slash journey times for the state bus fleet.

The chief executive of State Transit, John Stott, said many routes went from southern Sydney through Concord and on to Parramatta Road, and more priority lanes meant swifter travel.

"This will improve reliability, and that is the best way to increase travel on public transport," he said.

The head of the private Bus and Coach Association, Darryl Mellish, applauded the new measures but said that more needed to be done to reduce travel times.

Operators wanted to know what the RTA's criteria were in selecting areas for bus priority.

"Road congestion in Sydney's suburbs is a major detriment to bus transport becoming an attractive option to the car," Mr Mellish said. "Every morning buses are caught in traffic jams.

"The Government is finally starting to acknowledge the concerns of the community for travellers out in the suburbs, although they still do not get the subsidised discount fares or concessions the STA passenger receives."

See PCA Media Release 23 March 2000