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BUS LANES: Why can taxis use Bus Lanes and what does the future hold in terms of access?

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

One of the big perks of the job for both taxi drivers and their passengers is the allowed use of bus lanes.

Cabbies are able to whiz passengers around in a timely fashion despite facing some of the hardest congestion and traffic.

All Hackney Carriage taxis can access bus lanes where marked with signage displaying the word taxi. For the most part, private hire vehicles (PHV) cannot access bus lanes, however there are some exceptions.

In Coventry and Nottingham, wheelchair accessible PHVs can access bus lanes. The same goes for Northern Ireland, where there are four types of ‘taxi’. ‘Permitted’ taxis are allowed access which refers to public hire black taxis and wheelchair-accessible PHVs.

In big cities like Cardiff, Sheffield and Liverpool, minicabs ARE allowed access to the prized road space.

Can taxis and private hire vehicles pick up and drop off passengers in a bus lane?

In London both taxis and private hire vehicles can pick up or set down customers in a bus lane even if they are not normally allowed to drive in it. The only exceptions are stretches of red route where stopping is not permitted because of the disruption this would cause to already busy roads.

Transport for London (TfL) tells its taxi and private hire drivers that:

  • Drivers should enter and leave the bus lane in the most direct and safe way

  • Customers should never be set down in the middle of the road, even if the vehicle is stopped due to traffic the driver must always get close to the kerb

  • Private hire vehicles cannot stop at 'bus stop clearways' marked with a wide yellow line by the kerb. On red routes both taxis and private hire vehicles cannot stop at bus stops marked with a wide red line by the kerb. At other red route bus stops, taxi and private hire drivers should avoid stopping to avoid disruption to the bus network

  • Remember, only licensed taxi drivers can drive in bus lanes - private hire vehicles are not allowed. Licensed taxi drivers should check the signs at the start of the bus lanes, however, because there are a still a number of bus lanes they cannot use.

Why can taxis access bus lanes and not PHV?

In 2015 Addison Lee challenged this theory at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and lost. The ECJ said only black cab drivers are allowed to use the bus lanes because of their distinction from minicabs. Crucially the courts also found the banned usage of PHVs did not give taxis an economic advantage.

TfL have long argued that taxis are allowed to drive in bus lanes because they can ply-for-hire, whereas minicabs cannot. All licensed taxis in the capital are also required to be wheelchair-accessible and need full curb-side access.

TfL also had big worries around the reliability of bus services, if minicabs were included. Allowing tens of thousands of minicabs to drive in bus lanes would slow down already stagnating bus times.

In 2012 private-hire drivers staged a protest outside the Manchester Town Hall after being banned from using bus lanes.

Minicab representatives at the time said the council were discriminating against them by preventing them from using the lanes, which black cabs could continue to use.

Manchester Council said that bus lanes were used to speed up journey times and ease congestion. However James Parry, a solicitor acting on behalf of the Private Hire Association, said taxis and PHV were essentially doing the same job.

What does the future hold for taxis in bus lanes?

In a recent Transport for London (TfL) Finance Committee meeting there was concern raised over the declining numbers of taxi drivers available to the public and for its long-term future by the Chair of the meeting Anne McMeel.

McMeel said: “There is something about the future of black cabs and if we want them to be part of the iconic image of London then we need to look at what our overall policy is over black cabs going forwards.”

McMeel also added her concerns around the impact of declining bus lane access, Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes and rising congestion that she said “could send the price of a taxi zooming through the roof, even for relatively short journeys”.

The Chair queried how TfL were trying to ‘synchronise policies’ and whether there were things TfL can do to actually lessen the problems.

Andy Byford, Transport Commissioner, responded: “We have very regular dialogue with the taxi industry and also the Private Hire (industry), including myself. I meet with them on a scheduled basis, Helen Chapman, our expert and Director in this area, has very, very regular dialogue.

“When we do look at things like bus lanes, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, cycle lanes, etcetera we do factor in, and take account of, the potential impact on taxis because like you I recognise the iconic nature, of in particular black cabs, it is for me the best cab service in the world. The cabs do place a very vital part in London’s transport offer.”

Private car usage in big cities looks set to be reduced further with more road-pricing schemes and charges set to drive motorists away. Publicly hired taxis and even privately booked minicabs are increasingly seen as a cost-effective way for authorities to introduce greener and more efficient road surface transport alongside buses and cycles.

Dare I say it... taxis are increasingly being viewed as a solution to future A to B transport offerings and access remains vital.


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