Can Motorcycles Use Bus Lanes In The UK?


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Last Updated: 1st March 2021

Despite the efforts of lobby groups like the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), many councils fail to recognise the benefits of motorcycles when it comes to pollution and traffic reduction.

But with ever-increasing fuel efficiency and data to support the relative safety of urban riding, some areas in the UK are starting to see the light – allowing motorcyclists to use the bus lanes just like cyclists.

Unfortunately, there’s no short answer to the question posed in the title of this article.

The laws vary so widely across the UK (and at times within a city) that there’s no definitive answer.

The way things are right now, there are only two ways to know for certain whether you can ride in the bus lane in any area – either by consulting the council’s website beforehand or by checking the blue information sign at the side of the road.

If a bus lane allows motorcycles, you should see one of these signs next to it.

bus lane street sign

Outside of their hours of operation, bus lanes allow all traffic to use them. Most operate from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm, Monday to Friday but there are 24-hour lanes in operation in high congestion areas.

 

Bus Lanes For Motorcycles – Regional Roundup

As the laws vary so widely we’ve done a roundup of the regulations in some of the bigger UK cities.


London

TFL red route sign

London could be a great city for riding – good roads, iconic sights, and bus lanes everywhere.

However, its roads are controlled by several different bodies. Some fall under the jurisdiction of local councils, who are free to make local laws regarding bus lane use, while others are controlled by TFL, whose bus lanes largely allow for motorcycle use.

The previously mentioned MAG has reportedly met with London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, who is aware of the problem and favours a solution that affords motorcyclists the same bus lane privileges as cyclists throughout the city.

Trials extending the use of bus lanes to motorcyclists date back to 2008 but the situation remains confusing.

Currently, the majority of red routes allow motorcycles to use their bus lanes. These routes form only 5% of the city’s roads but carry up to 30% of its traffic.

For safety and to avoid confusion, there are few restrictions on motorcycles using the bus lanes on most of these routes. The routes are laid out on TFL’s website.

The only way to be 100% sure in London is by looking at the blue sign where the bus lane starts.


Manchester

Bus in Manchester

At the moment Manchester does not extend the use of its bus lanes to motorcyclists within their hours of operation.

There does seem to be some variation in how this law is interpreted and enforced, however. Some riders will tell you they regularly filter down the outside of the bus lane and never get fined, others will tell you to follow the letter of the law.

We strongly suggest the latter policy. Either way, driving a car in the bus lane in Manchester will land you a fine almost every time. Riding a motorcycle in the same lane is illegal, so we certainly wouldn’t recommend it – but it’s seemingly not an uncommon sight.

Manchester City Council uses CCTV footage to secure and pursue fines and though they have made noises about adopting a similar policy to London, nothing has materialised so far.

See the up to date laws here.


Liverpool

Buses in Liverpool

Less than a decade ago, Liverpool’s then-mayor, Joe Anderson scrapped nearly all the city’s bus lanes, causing the average running times of buses to increase by 15 – 20%. Since then there has been a return of some routes, all of which forbid the use of motorcycles.

Essentially, Liverpool City Council takes much the same view of motorcycling as Manchester – allowing only buses, taxis, and cyclists to use their bus lanes within their stated hours.

Routes without hours printed on their blue information sign are 24 hours and can never be used by motorcyclists or other private vehicles.

Hopefully, the trials and full implementation of motorcycles in the bus lanes in other cities will encourage Liverpool City Council to take a different approach.

See the up to date laws here.


Leeds

Buses in Leeds

Despite the recommendation from West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Strategy that motorcyclists should be allowed to use bus lanes, it is still not possible in Leeds.

The WYCA’s suggested phased introduction of motorcycles in bus lanes will be trialled in Wakefield and Calderdale, and the results of these trials will be analysed before the council rules on bus lane use in Leeds.

This is promising stuff for the future but the present is much the same as Liverpool and Manchester.

See the up to date laws here.


Birmingham

Buses in Birmingham

Birmingham allows solo (no trikes or sidecars) motorcycles use bus lanes the same way as bicycles and taxis. This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, however. Some streets and lanes remain bus-only, though a considerable effort has gone into making this clear, with blue roadside signs, red lanes, and bright, white lettering.

Birmingham’s bus lanes are enforced by CCTV and signs telling you when you’re entering a camera area are in place. Though the situation is better than many other urban areas in the UK, the bus lanes that are in place are rigorously enforced.

See the up to date laws here.


Bristol

Bus in Bristol

Thankfully, Bristol allows motorcycles to use the majority of its bus lanes. The same blue signs are used with most including the white silhouette of a motorcycle and rider. No white motorcycle outline on the blue sign = no bikes in that particular lane.

Bristol has been trying to improve the experience for cyclists and walkers in the city, introducing new cycle lanes throughout the centre that have reduced the number of lanes available to traffic in some places.

This hasn’t had a huge impact on the situation for riders and Bristol remains a pretty motorbike-friendly city in the context of the UK.

See the up to date laws here.


Edinburgh

Bus lane in Edinburgh

Edinburgh, like Bristol, allows motorcycles to use the overwhelming majority of its bus lanes 24/7. Signs are present at the beginning of every bus lane and riders should always check for the motorcycle symbol in case of changes.

The city does contain five bus gates, however, which can only be used by pedal cyclists, public buses, taxis and emergency vehicles. These bus gates are enforced with CCTV cameras.

Edinburgh is, by all accounts, a pleasant riding experience (as cities go) and the success of motorcycle bus lane access there should be an example to the rest of Britain’s cities.

See the up to date laws here.


Glasgow

Bus lane in Glasgow

Unlike Edinburgh, Bristol, and to some extent London, Glasgow doesn’t allow motorcycles to use its bus lanes. There have been attempts through petitions on Change.org and other grassroots methods. Glasgow Motorcycle Action Group’s, Steven Wykes states:

Motorcyclists are considered one of the three most vulnerable road user groups – the others being pedestrians and cyclists. A study carried out in London between 2004 and 2010 demonstrated that collisions fell by 5.2 % when motorbikes were allowed to use bus lanes. Motorcycles should not be lumped in with cars. This would start a process which would solve Glasgow’s emission problems.

The future is unwritten and there are signs that Glasgow might adopt a policy like Edinburgh in the future. Several proposals have been made and the matter was under review in 2019.

See the up to date laws here.


Conclusion

England could probably do with a nationwide policy on lane use, similar to Australia or New Zealand.

The problem is that the law here doesn’t allow for a single governing body to decide these things. Adding your voice to the Motorcycle Action Group is a good idea if you agree with their views on bus lane reform. But sadly, that’s about all we can do for the moment.


Image Credits

Mikey from Wythenshawe, Manchester, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Whohe! at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mtaylor848, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Geof Sheppard, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo © Jim Barton (cc-by-sa/2.0)