‘Open the floodgates’ - Huge row over plans to allow private hire drivers to use Birmingham bus lanes

Birmingham councillors disagree over a proposal to allow private hire drivers to use bus lanes in the city
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Calls to allow private hire drivers to use bus lanes in Birmingham have fiercely divided opinion among the city’s councillors.

A motion was put forward by Liberal Democrat councillors proposing such drivers should be allowed to use bus lanes while on duty in a bid to tackle congestion and air pollution in the city.

Speaking at a Meeting of the Birmingham City Council last week, councillor Ayoub Khan said private hire drivers are “instrumental” to the city but claimed there is “very little that gets mentioned or recognised in relation to the good work” they do.

“It is, in my view, one of the most difficult jobs to do,” the Liberal Democrat councillor said. “Picking up passengers that range from being pleasant to abusive and in extreme circumstances, violent. Drivers having to carry passengers that are sometimes intoxicated, vomiting and even urinating in the back of a taxi.”

He went on to argue that allowing private hire vehicles to also use bus lanes would reduce congestion and emissions in the city as well as lead to faster journey times for passengers.

“Private hire drivers provide important services such as carrying our elderly vulnerable passengers whether to shopping centres or hospital appointments, they carry our young children with special needs to school,” Cllr Khan said in a statement. These services are at peak travel times when congestion is the greatest.”

Bus laneBus lane
Bus lane

Addressing the motion, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for transport Liz Clements argued that bus lanes were helping reduce journey times on particular routes “because there are no cars in the bus lane.”

“The point of a bus lane is to allow the bus to pass freely through traffic alongside queues of traffic and that’s the way we persuade people to make the choice to use mass transit buses rather than relying on private hire cars,” the Labour councillor said.

“I absolutely agree with everybody who has spoken about the really important service that private hire vehicle drivers provide." She continued: “I can see a lot of you sitting in the public gallery – I’m aware of the service and sheer kindness and humanity of a lot of the people in your trade. The fact remains once you’re in a private hire vehicle, you’re in a car and we’ve made a policy decision that we’re trying to prioritise buses and mass transit in those bus lanes.” She went on to say that the council had supported private hire drivers through the implementation of the Clean Air Zone and through the challenges of Covid.

Labour councillor Phil Davis, chair of the licensing and public protection committee, added that the most used form of public transport in the city was buses and argued there would be an impact “if we were to open the floodgates” to thousands of vehicles from across the West Midlands.

Green Party councillor Julien Pritchard agreed that private hire drivers in Birmingham are an “integral and vital part of the city’s transport systems.” However, he said the proposal put forward by the Liberal Democrats could have unintended consequences for other users of bus lanes and possibly “muddies” who can use them.

Conservative councillor Bruce Lines meanwhile described private hire vehicles as “ambassadors” for Birmingham and said he supported the motion if it was feasible, saying everything should be done to support such drivers. The motion was ultimately lost following a vote among the councillors.