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Public Bus Collisions

Volume 838: debated on Monday 13 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users from public bus collisions in England.

My Lords, the Government are determined to make our roads safer for all users. The National Bus Strategy made it clear that local authorities and bus operators should work together to ensure that bus services are safe and perceived to be safe by all. We also introduced changes to the Highway Code in 2022 and have delivered high-quality walking and cycling schemes, which will be vital to ensuring the safety of vulnerable road users.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Every six weeks, according to Transport for London’s own statistics, on average one person is killed and 100 people hospitalised by preventable bus incidents. This is getting no better, despite the fact that the number of bus journeys has actually reduced. Given that the London business model is being rolled out to the rest of the country, do the Government still think that having bus companies investigating their own incidents is a good idea?

My Lords, as I have said, road safety is a priority for the Government. The department is determined to make roads safer for everyone, and the delivery of high-quality walking and cycling schemes, coupled with the changes to the Highway Code in 2022, will play an important part in addressing the safety concerns of people wanting to walk, wheel and cycle. Active Travel England is working with local authorities to ensure that walking and cycling infrastructure is of the right quality and in the right places to maximise its value and impact. On the issue of bus companies investigating themselves, as the noble Lord knows from debates on the Automated Vehicles Bill, we have no intention of introducing separate investigation for buses.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many injuries caused by buses in fact occur inside the bus, especially to the elderly and vulnerable? Care needs to be taken in examining any statistics that suggest how many bus-related injuries arise in a particular period, to ensure that a distinction is made between those occurring inside the bus, often because of excessive braking, and those involving pedestrians in the street.

My noble friend makes a very good point. It is a matter for individual bus companies, and of training. This issue is clearly of great importance to bus users but, as I say, it is for the bus companies themselves to ensure that their drivers are properly trained and take great care.

My Lords, there is a particular problem for disabled and vulnerable passengers using the new bus stops that are in lanes between cycle paths and the main pavement—not least a very narrow pavement for wheelchair users trying to leave a bus, and a ramp, as a result of which you often almost go straight in front of the cycles. I must tell your Lordships that when you are coming down a steep ramp, you are not in control of your speed. Are there any plans to monitor accident numbers and to assess the risks associated with this new bus stop/cycle lane arrangement?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. The phrase used for these stops is “floating bus stops”. Local authorities are bound by the public sector equality duty, and it is for them to ensure that any infrastructure they install is safe, fit for purpose and delivered in a way that enables them to comply with equalities legislation. The department is aware of concerns raised by some groups about these floating bus stops, and that is why we co-funded research into the issue, led by Transport Scotland. This concluded recently and we will consider the findings carefully in deciding the next steps.

My Lords, in fact, bus deaths and injuries are coming down quite dramatically compared with car deaths and injuries. The latter have barely moved, whereas bus and coach injuries have come down by 40% in the last year. I want to congratulate the Government because, clearly, their policy of depriving local councillors of funding means that there are fewer bus services and therefore fewer deaths and injuries from buses.

My Lords, there are concerns, and this issue arises from a Question we had about road safety. In view of some recent unsatisfactory accidents, is any consideration being given to obliging cyclists, particularly those on e-cycles, to have proper accident insurance in place, and to follow speed limits, like all other users of the road?

My Lords, like all road users, cyclists are required to comply with road traffic laws in the interests of the safety of other road users. This is also reflected in the Highway Code. Dangerous cycling is completely unacceptable, and that is why there are already strict laws in place for cyclists who break the law. The police have the power to prosecute if these are broken.

My Lords, can the Minister say how many cyclists were prosecuted last year? My own background tells me that very few are.

I am afraid I am unable to help the noble Lord with a number. I do not know whether we keep a record of that. I shall find out and if we do, I will write to the noble Lord.

In answer to a previous question, my noble friend said that the bus companies themselves investigate such accidents and the cause. Is that information shared among the bus industry as a whole, or with any regulators or departments, to make sure we learn lessons from these accidents and that they do not happen again?

I am not aware of that, but I take my noble friend’s point. It is a question of bus companies taking their own steps to ensure that people are safe while they travel, and that drivers are trained properly.

Does the Minister agree that, for all the points that have been made in this short discussion, in the vast majority of cases, bus drivers, particularly in our cities, deserve our thanks and respect for safely and successfully navigating the multiple and increasing challenges they face on our roads? Since buses are the main means of transport for the elderly, the young, young mothers with children—the less well-off in our society—should they not be valued by society as a whole for the public service they offer us day in, day out?

I could not possibly disagree with that. I am a regular bus user and I agree that they provide a tremendous service, whether it is in our cities, towns or, indeed, our rural areas.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that pedestrians, cyclists and e-scooter riders make themselves even more vulnerable and dangerous to others, including bus drivers, through the increasing and distracting use of headphones, AirPods and smartphones in general while on pavements and roads? Are the Government taking any steps to address this?

I agree with what the noble Lord says, but it is an individual responsibility. It is not for the Government to say, “You should take care”. A Government can encourage people to take care, but it is a matter of your own assessment of the risks on the road. If you wish to wear headphones and take that risk, more fool you.

My Lords, if the present level of injuries, which has been described, continues, is there not a strong case for introducing greater regulation? In ordinary circumstances it would not be necessary, but it does seem to be very necessary in this sphere.

There is quite a bit of legislation on reckless and dangerous cycling—the penalties are quite high—and on drinking alcohol or taking drugs while cycling. The penalties and offences are there; it is a matter of the police enforcing them.

My Lords, the Minister says that it is a matter of the police enforcing them. Will he tell us how exactly they are expected to do that, given their current level of resourcing and that there is no system of licensing or, indeed, of identifying cyclists, who may simply cycle away having committed the offences to which he refers?

The noble Lord asks how the police are supposed to do it. It is a matter of being out there and patrolling. I did it myself for 32 years, and I managed to nab a few cyclists.