Britain’s most controversial motorway lane is to be scrapped.
The M4 bus lane which runs for 3.5 miles London-bound from close to Heathrow, has infuriated millions of motorists as it usually sits unused while they fume in traffic jams.
The lane was introduced by then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott more than a decade ago.
Empty as usual: The M4 bus lane infuriates motorists because it is rarely used
On Monday Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will announce the lane will be suspended.
‘Nothing is more symbolic of Labour’s war on the motorist,’ he said.
It will return for the 2012 Olympic Games, after which it will be scrapped permanently.
Currently, only buses, taxis, and motorcycles are authorised to use it.
The M4 Bus Lane was originally opened in June 1999 and reserved for buses and taxis under a speed limit of 50 mph on a main arterial routes into the capital.
Three years later, motorcycles were also allowed access and the speed limit was raised to 60 mph.
It became known as the ‘Blair lane’ when, within days of its opening, the former Prime Minister’s official car avoided a traffic jam and swung into the empty bus lane and past the queues for ‘security reasons.’ Other former ministers also used it to dodge jams.
Whitehall sources said Labour politicians had abused their position by using the lane like the Soviet style ‘Zil’ lanes – named after the routes reserved in the former Communist Soviet Union for Kremlin big-wigs in their Zil limousines.
The motorway carries about 7 per cent all London-bound traffic, but funnels traffic from three to two lanes.
Ahead of his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Monday, Tory Transport Secretary Mr Hammond, MP for Weybridge, said: ‘It was John Prescott’s idea and I think that says it all. From the end of December until the Olympics the M4 bus lane will be suspended.
And once the Olympics are over my intention is to scrap it permanently.’
The first move towards the M4 Bus Lane’s demise will begin on 8 November 2010 when an ‘Experimental Order’ under Section 9 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 will be made suspending the M4 Bus Lane from 24 December 2010 for 18 months.
Trafic flows will be monitored during the period of the Order.
A Whitehall source said:’Current signs and road markings for the bus lane will be removed and a revised road layout introduced.
Existing speed limits will remain on safety grounds, as will the red surfacing.’
But he added:’The business case shows time savings for all current non-bus lane users during the morning peak period, with more savings during the evening peak. There is no significant change in journey times for existing bus lane users. There is believed to be no impact, either way, on safety.’
The ‘Experimental Order’ will expire in June 2012 before Olympic Delivery Agency(ODA) begins its traffic management measures on the stretch of the M4 from Junction 1 to 7 which has been designated as part of the Olympic Route Network as a VIP ‘Games Lane’.
Ministers expect sufficient data should be collected during 2011 to support the permanent removal of the bus lane , which will be done via a Revocation Order.
The cost of initial removal of the M4 bus lane is estimated at £409,000.
However this figure excludes the cost of its reinstatement for the period of the London Olympics and of any subsequent modifications once the removal be made permanent.
To add insult to injury, critics say the lane fines are hardly enforced.
Last year a report by BBC London said only a handful of penalty notices issued to drivers who wrongly use the M4 bus lane each year.
Just fourteen £60 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2008 with just six by September 2009.
Taken from the mail online