Motorway car share lane to cut congestion and pollution
The Government has given the green light to the UK's first motorway car-share lane, steering the country down the road towards more measures to penalise the solo driver.A one-mile section of the M606/M62 between Bradford and Leeds in West Yorkshire will be the first stretch of motorway to have such a scheme introduced.
The lane will allow those sharing cars to avoid queues at a frequently-congested junction.
Recent studies carried out by the Highways Agency show that 84 out of 100 cars using this section of motorway during peak time carry no passengers except the driver and tailbacks of up to 15 minutes are the norm for motorists trying to join the M62 are the norm.
The success of the trial lane will likely determine how large a role car sharing will play in Government efforts to tackle congestion and traffic pollution in coming years.
As well as the Yorkshire lane plans are also on the horizon to introduce a car pool lane on a ten-mile stretch of the busy M1 between the London orbital M25 and Luton, where a new fourth lane will be restricted to vehicles with more than one occupant during peak periods.
Opponents of car sharing lanes cite a study by the University of California which showed lanes in San Francisco were underused.
According to the report a motorway lane can comfortably take 2,200 cars and hour travelling at 70mph before congestion starts to be a problem, but that car share lanes were carrying only 1,600 cars, putting greater pressure on the other lanes.
This overlooks the fact that journey times are still shorter for those who do share cars and since at least two people would have to be in each of the 1,600 cars basic maths suggests it is a more efficient way to transport people, if not move cars.
There is also evidence that car pool lanes have been abused where they have been introduced in the US, with single drivers going to extraordinary lengths to use the lane.
Motorists have been known to stop at bus stops to offer strangers a lift, or pose shop dummies and blow up dolls in the passenger seat.
While the occasional abuse is inevitable, evidence from Britain's bus lanes suggests motorists by and large will respect them if there is evidence they will be enforced.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said: "Car sharing can help make journeys quicker and more reliable on this very busy stretch of motorway.
"When fully operational next year, the [Yorkshire] lane will improve journey times by an average of eight minutes during peak periods. This will be good for drivers and good for the environment.
"We are committed to continuing the investment in our road network, adding new capacity where needed and building world class public transport systems.
"Innovative and imaginative measures like car sharing can help make better use of the road space available.
"These measures alone will not solve the underlying problem of congestion. That is why we are looking at the possible benefits that road pricing might bring in tackling congestion on our roads."
Work on the widening scheme in Yorkshire began on Monday, March 20 and the new lane is expected to open in 2007.
by Sam Bond