Experimental Bus Gates

Bus gates in Worcester Street and South Parks Road

15 July 2020

On 2nd July, the County and City Councils announced that two experimental “bus gates” restricting traffic access in parts of the city centre will be introduced in August. The precise locations have not yet been fixed, but one is expected to be in or close to Worcester Street, the other in South Parks Road or St Cross Road. Although the Society is in regular contact with the Councils to discuss transport initiatives, neither we nor as far as we know any other local organisations were given notice of this significant development.

The introduction of bus gates is an important part of the Connecting Oxford strategy, which Oxford Civic Society supports as a serious attempt to reduce congestion and improve air quality in the city. However, we are concerned about the short notice at which these changes are being introduced.

Making significant changes to traffic flow means there will be winners and losers. As far as we are aware there is no published evidence on the potential benefits, which gives the impression that the benefits have not yet been assessed and quantified. If any modelling has been undertaken, we recommend that the findings are made public. There is also little information available about how the impact of the bus-gates will be monitored. We recommend that the monitoring arrangements are made clear at the outset, including how the public will be involved. Without clear objectives and monitoring of results it will not be possible to judge whether the experiment has been successful and show that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

How the bus gates will operate in practice will be a vital feature. This covers questions like the hours they will work, what exemptions will apply (local residents, disabled, emergency services etc.), what alternative routes will be recommended and how they will be signed, and so on. We recommend that these practicalities are described in detail at the outset. As the gates will be experimental it is important that the monitoring arrangements allow for changes to be made as and when necessary.

We have written to the councillors concerned at both County and City Councils, urging them not only to set out in clear detail how the restrictions will work, but also to share the research findings on which the proposal is based and their plans for evaluating the experiment as it proceeds.

For the proposed bus-gates to be given a chance to prove themselves, a strong public information campaign is needed which clearly explains their purpose, potential benefits, operational characteristics and the way in which these might change as the impact of the bus gates is monitored.

What is a “bus gate”?

A better name is perhaps “traffic filter”, because so-called bus gates do not just affect buses! People may be familiar with the bus gate that operates on Oxford High Street. The road is slightly narrowed at that point but the main feature is the traffic restrictions. On High Street only buses, emergency vehicles and taxis are allowed to go through the gate between the hours of 7.30am and 6.30pm. Usage of the gate is monitored by cameras with fines for motorists and motorcyclists who ignore the restrictions. Exactly how any new gates/filters will operate –  what vehicles may pass through and when – is still to be announced. Cycles and of course pedestrians are able to pass freely in either direction.