06:18PM, Wednesday 19 January 2022
The controversial bus lane on the A4 in Slough has been made permanent by the borough council - despite car journey times increasing as a result of the scheme.
The council's cabinet met on Monday to discuss whether to implement the lane as a permanent fixture in the town.
It has been met by serious opposition from motorists since its inception during the first lockdown, with angry drivers calling for the temporary lane to be abolished.
One petition in July 2020 saw 2,000 sign in just 24 hours, while a second garnered more than 6,000 signatures.
SBC introduced the lane as the town eased out of lockdown and used Government Active Travel money to construct the lane, with the local authority’s aim to move people away from private cars.
The bus lane – which runs the length of the A4 from Huntercombe Spur to Uxbridge Road – was initially brought in as a 24-hour scheme but the council gave into pressure and reduced it to peak-time only in December 2020.
Speaking at cabinet on Monday, Slough Borough Council's new lead member for transport, Councillor Pavitar Mann (Lab, Britwell and Northborough), claimed that the scheme is a key part of the council's sustainability goals.
"The benefits of this are two-fold - firstly, to lower the reliance on car journeys, especially for the short journeys that we take," she said.
"And by replacing these with sustainable transport options, we improve not only our own health, but the knock-on effect that this has to improve the health of all in our town by cleaning the air that we breath."
Cllr Mann added: "What we are discussing tonight is not the town's first bus lane, but rather seeing the implementation of the additional lane to the ones we already have.
"Bus timing has improved; there has been no significant spike in accidents, and congestion has not significantly increased as a result of the bus lane.
"Air quality along the A4 has also substantially improved."
The council is also permitting the use of electric vehicles with authorised green number plates in bus lanes at any time, while it will also shift cyclists and electric scooters to use the bus lane rather than shared use footways.
The cost to make the scheme permanent is approximately £98,000 and includes updating all signage.
Planning officer Savio DeCruz told cabinet that the bus lane has been through an 'extensive scrutiny process', adding that the views of residents had been considered.
He said there had been a two minute improvement on bus journey times, which related to the 'running time' of a bus and excluded the time it spends at a standstill.
Other benefits of the scheme, Mr DeCruz added, were that it would generate more grant funding from the Department for Transport, while also making the council's emerging borough local plan 'more sustainable'.
But he said that one of the disadvantages of the scheme is that there has been an increase in journey time for motorists by up to three minutes.
"However, prior to rolling out the bus lanes we had undertaken some extensive traffic modelling which showed that with all of the growth that is expected [this] would get up to eight minutes," Mr DaCruz said.
Leader of the council Cllr James Swindlehurst (Lab, Cippenham Green) said that the next task for the council was to ensure that all of Slough's three bus lanes are integrated together.
"That is the next job - but we can't put the cart before the horse, we have clearly got to deal with this first, and once they are all in the same nature of running, then I think everybody knows where they are and it is all a bit clearer," he said.
He also defended the bus lane by saying that most of the complaints he gets from drivers about it are due to them being pushed off the lane at peak times.
"That is where we are trying to prioritise public transport as the means of moving people around," he said.
Former transport cabinet member Cllr Rob Anderson (Lab, Britwell and Northborough) claimed that pollution had 'gone down' since the arrival of the bus lanes, but said that he could not say that this was because of the scheme itself.
"What we can say for definite is that our pollution is at record lows and has been for the last year, certainly since the bus lane has been in," he said.
"But until we know, we can't attribute that to the bus lane."
Cllr Anderson added that a permanent, peak-time only bus lane along the A4 was not as disruptive compared to other schemes up and down the country, with cities and towns proposing low, or even no emission zones.
Recently-appointed leader of the Conservative opposition group, Cllr Dexter Smith (Con, Colnbrook with Poyle) urged the council to delay making the bus lane permanent to ensure it collects the most accurate data for and against.
"The data you have for the experimental measures and the 18 months of that is not sufficient enough for you to make any definitive decisions at the moment," he said.
"I think you should actually defer taking a decision here until you look at why it is that other councils are actually removing their bus lanes due to air quality."
Earlier in the meeting, Cllr Christine Hulme (Lab, Central) had asked when the council was likely to get information back about the bus lane's impact on air quality.
Mr DeCruz said this was likely to be a 'lengthy process' and would not be made available soon.
Cllr Smith also questioned the £120,000 figure which was quoted in the report to outline how much it would cost to abolish the bus lane.
Mr DeCruz later confirmed that this figure was correct due to the charges which would ensue following the removal and scrapping of road signs.
Earlier in the meeting, Mr DeCruz had also provided councillors with an update on the council's proposals for a cycle ‘superhighway’ along the A4.
He informed that the council had already received £250,000 from the Government to prepare the design of the scheme.
However, this work was put on pause last year after Dft officials visited the council to discuss the bid, which is a 'substantial amount' of £10million.
“The main reason we paused it is because we don’t want to spend the £250,000 on the design and then they [DFT] give us a quarter of the amount to implement the scheme that we want to," Mr DeCruz said.
"They are very interested because it is the largest bid that they have received."
A decision on whether or not the council has been successful with the bid is expected to be given by early spring.
Maidenhead and Slough travellers have long been waiting for the arrival of Crossrail to whisk them quickly into central London.