Reserved traffic lanes are nothing new; after all, bus lanes have occupied road space for over forty years. However, some bus lanes are not used to their full benefit, as not enough buses use them.
This has led to the common question of why do motorists have to queue in one lane, whilst the other lies empty? By opening the lane up to additional users, queues can be reduced and journey times reduced. And the bus lane does not need to be completely removed, just adapted.
High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) are essentially just that. They are bus lanes which additionally allow multi-occupant cars to use them. This way, those cars carrying more than one person are allowed to bypass the queue, whilst those vehicles with just a driver have to queue up as normal.
In the UK, HOV lanes have been around for over ten years, yet they have only received major publicity in the past few years, due to the opening of the first motorway HOV lane. They have been in use in the United States since the 1960s, and can also be found in several other countries.
The idea behind the HOV lane is to boost car sharing and use of public transport, particularly as most cars in the affected areas (during peak times) are occupied only by the driver. So by letting those vehicles with additional passengers use the special lane, they get to pass through the congested area whilst the other vehicles sit in queuing traffic.
In addition, by car-sharing, the Highways Agency is attempting to promote the environmental benefits of such a scheme, principally less fuel consumption, and so meaning fewer car emissions.
The following vehicles are permitted to use HOV lanes:
- Cars carrying passengers
- Buses and Coaches
- Taxis and minibuses carrying passengers
The following vehicles are prohibited from using the HOV lanes:
- Cars with no passengers (i.e. driver only)
- Taxis and minibuses with no passengers
Some HOV lanes allow HGVs, whilst others do not. Signs advise HGV drivers of any restrictions.
Signage and markings
New signage has been introduced to make drivers aware of the HOV lanes. The lanes are generally identified using a car symbol with "2+" displayed within it (see right for a picture). Some signage looks similar to the commonly found Bus Lane sign, with the vehicle shown to the left of a solid white line. Operational times (where applicable) are displayed below the sign.
In terms of road markings, the HOV lanes generally look like a bus lane, with traffic separated by a solid white lane. The markings "2+ LANE" are painted along the lane at regular intervals.
HOV lane schemes
The UK's first HOV lane was introduced back in 1998, on the A647 Stanningley Road in Leeds. The lane was introduced by Leeds City Council in an attempt to reduce the number of vehicles occupied by one person, the figure standing at 60% before the scheme was introduced. The council originally wanted to install a bus lane, but found that bus service frequencies were too low to justify it; instead they decided a HOV lane, allowing buses and multi-occupant vehicles to use the road.
Since then, a number of HOV lanes have opened in a handful of locations:
|A647||11 May 1998||Stanningley Road, Leeds||Inbound||Mon - Fri 0700-1000 & 1600-1800|
|A4174||21 Oct 1998||Avon Ring Road, Bristol||Westbound||Mon - Fri 0700-0930|
|A370||01 Feb 2005||Long Ashton Bypass, Bristol||Inbound||Mon - Fri 0700-0930|
|A47||19 Nov 2007||Fort Parkway, Birmingham||Inbound||Mon - Fri 0700-1000|
|A63||10 Feb 2009||Pontefract Lane, Leeds||Inbound
Mon - Fri
Mon - Fri 1600-1900
|Unclass.||21 Feb 2011||Roundhay Road, Leeds||Inbound||At all times|
|A650||12 Mar 2012||Tong Street, Bradford||Outbound||Mon - Fri 0700-1000 & 1600-1900|
|A45||tbc||Nene Valley Way, Northampton||Westbound|
The M62 / M606 scheme
In 2008, the HOV lane concept was extended to the motorway network, with the opening of a three-mile long lane on the M606 and M62.
The first motorway car-share lane in the UK, this three mile full-time HOV lane us located in the area around Chain Bar Interchange (Junction 26), south of Bradford. It starts on the southbound carriageway of the M606, then "peels" around the corner of the roundabout and onto the eastbound carriageway of the M62.
It was introduced to help reduce delays for traffic passing through the junction, as it bypasses the traffic signals located on the roundabout. Studies by the Highways Agency showed that 84% of vehicles passing through Junction 26 were carrying no passengers.
The HOV lane was constructed utilising the existing free-flow slip road between the M606 and M62 East, meaning that passenger-less vehicles wanting to make that movement would be forced to use the roundabout, and queue up to pass through the traffic signals. Vehicles using the HOV lane are expected to save up to eight minutes on their journey times by utilising the lane.
An observation platform has been constructed alongside the HOV lane to allow the police to observe vehicles utilising the lane and ensuring no passenger-less vehicles are found to be using the lane. Anyone found to be flouting the rules may be stopped by the police and penalised.
The HOV lane was opened by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly on 20 March 2008. A Carpool scheme was also established to coincide with the opening of the HOV lane. Details are available at www.carplus.org.uk.
Announced back in December 2004, the then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling made the decision to introduce a HOV lane on the M1 between Junctions 7 and 10, as part of a major widening project. It was to be the Government's flagship HOV scheme, but the scheme was cancelled in March 2008, before the work had even been completed.
The reason for its cancellation was on safety grounds. Fears over possible crashes were expressed, with claims that drivers would become frustrated at slower vehicles, and therefore exit the lane and undertake the vehicle in front - this was deemed to be dangerous due to fast moving cars in the outside "normal" lane having to brake due to the undertaking vehicles.
A solution was put forward for moving the lane over to the other side of the carriageway, onto the inside lane - again this was deemed as dangerous, as cars from the next lane would have to cut in front of vehicles in the HOV lane - which could possibly be travelling faster - in order to exit the carriageway (the same happening with traffic joining the carriageway).
Instead, a Variable Speed Limit system will be introduced, with the possibility of hard shoulder running being used in the future. A further scheme between Junctions 10 and 13 was also cancelled, as this was dependent on the success of the J7-10 scheme.
Schemes were also considered for implementation on the M3 (J2 to J3) and M61 (J3 to J6).