Over-speeding buses on the Busway

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 138.

Has the stable door been shut?

In recent years some ‘disbenefits’ of the Busway route have come to light. Firstly, we had the low grey bollards on the parallel path. These were designed to stop motor vehicles, but had the unpleasant and dangerous effect of stopping rather too suddenly for some people on cycles. This may happen in poor light conditions or when someone near the rear of a group may be un-sighted by those ahead. Complaints and reports of a number of serious injuries after people had hit such obstructions resulted in some of these bollards being removed, and some pairs replaced by a single taller black and white version fitted with reflectors. Secondly, there have been several serious crashes resulting from over-speeding buses. You can still see the damage caused by the recent crash just south of Hills Road bridge.

New signs on the Busway alert drivers to their speed.
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

A bus leaving the guideway at speed risks serious injury or worse to some of the increasing numbers who walk or cycle on the adjacent path. Some action to alert drivers at critical locations is now being taken. Warning signs that can give the speed of the bus have appeared at a number of locations. They may also show a smiley face or say ‘too fast’. Such signs on public roads have been shown to slow down some traffic, but after time some drivers become immune to the message. It may be that in time some driver will fly through the still-ajar stable door and another crash will result.

There is a better way

In industry and especially on our railways, the monotony of some tasks leads to errors even by an otherwise conscientious person. Those who drive long distances on familiar routes will have encountered occasions where they suddenly realise they cannot remember driving the last ten miles, as they’ve been on ‘autopilot’! On the railways ‘Automatic Warning Systems’ started to be introduced some 80 years ago, that would apply the brakes if a driver passed a signal at danger or caution and failed to respond. Later these were improved to similarly brake an over-speeding train at critical locations. No railway passenger has been killed as a result of a collision in the last 9 years, in contrast to light rail or trams which do not have this system in place.

Buses are catching up

I first heard of trials with an electronic module fitted to diesel engines a good number of years ago. Buses entering the grounds of a very large secondary school in Scotland were ‘triggered’ to a limit of 10mph by a beacon.

Since 2009 Transport for London has been trialing ‘Intelligent Speed Adaptation’ (ISA) which uses a GPS-linked digital map of speeds limits. On the trialled routes only ‘extremely rare incidents of excess speeds’ have been recorded (downhill). Now all new London buses should be so equipped.

Yes, the warning signs appearing on the guided bus route are a good cheap option, but they cannot stop every crash, as distraction and boredom will still occur.

Too fast.
Image as described adjacent

Using ISA must be the aim, not only on the Busway but elsewhere when excessive speed of buses is an issue. With a GPS-linked digital speed map in place, perhaps we could consider such a scheme for other public service vehicles?

Shelford Parish Council has invested in similar signs to those on the Busway. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spotted one reading 48mph in a 30 mph area. Whilst walking or cycling I often see such signs triggered by a motor vehicle. The driver usually slows from say 38 to a little above 30 on approach. This driver never slowed and was still doing 48 on passing the sign. It was plated as a South Cambridgeshire private hire vehicle, but I didn’t have a chance to get the number or registration details.

If we want to reduce the deaths and serious injuries on our roads, ISA for motor vehicles driven by our so-called professionals must be one way forward.

Jim Chisholm