Buses on motorways and major ‘A’ roads: passengers and bus companies have their say

19 December 2019

How can motorways and major roads be made better for bus passengers and bus companies?

Today, Transport Focus has published new research Buses on Highway England’s roads: meeting the needs of passengers and bus companies which looks at how Highways England can better meet the needs of these road users.

Transport Focus spoke to bus passengers and local bus companies in Bristol and Brighton to understand what they think about bus services, existing bus priority measures and what future improvements would help.

The research found the M32 and A27 have a positive impact on bus journeys and these stretches of roads can be the best part of bus routes. Passengers in Bristol and Brighton told us that congestion on or approaching Highways England’s roads was their greatest concern when using these services.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:

“Passengers and bus companies tell us Highways England’s network is often the fastest, smoothest part of their bus journey but congestion has considerable impact on the day-to-day lives of those who use buses.

“Congestion is clearly being felt by bus passengers. This research should help Highways England understand these concerns and better meet the needs of these customers.

“Transport Focus looks forward to seeing the improvements for bus passengers and operators as part of Highways England’s proposed investment plans.”

Transport Focus is calling for Highways England to:

  • implement a range of improvements which help bus companies run punctual, reliable services which passengers can trust
  • develop a minimum standard for bus stops on its roads and upgrade those not meeting that standard as quickly as possible
  • look to minimise the impact on timetables during disruption, whether caused by planned roadworks, an event or an accident
  • partnering with bus companies and local authorities to pilot ‘try the bus’ initiatives, so that some current car users choose bus for some or all of their trips in future.

Transport Focus hopes this research will help Highways England strengthen its relationships with bus companies running services on motorways and major ‘A’ roads; with councils managing adjacent highway networks; and with sub-national transport bodies to deliver improvements for passengers.

Notes to editors

Download report: Buses on Highway England’s roads: meeting the needs of passengers and bus companies

For further information please contact: Kieran Watkins, senior communications officer. Tel: 0300 123 0836 or email: kieran.watkins@transportfocus.org.uk

Case studies

Transport Focus research in Bristol concentrated on the M3 and Y1 routes between the city centre and Emerson’s Green and Yate. The research looked at that part of these routes which are on or go across the M32 at junction 1.

Overall bus passengers are satisfied with their experience of using both the M3 and the Y1. Users of the M3 and Y1 said that buses can be impacted by congestion in Bristol during peak times. Congestion where the buses approach, travel along, or exit the M32 is a concern for many passengers, with delays due to traffic occurring where M3 buses meet the A4174, and along the motorway at Frenchay.

To allow buses to run more smoothly approaching and along Highways England’s network, users of the Y1 and the M3 frequently called for dedicated bus lanes. Current bus lanes in the area are seen as piecemeal and not long enough. Alongside bus lanes, bus passengers were generally positive about traffic lights which give buses priority over other traffic.

Bus users were much less positive about the high occupancy vehicle lane on the A4174 approaching junction 1 of the M32 as a way to give buses priority in the area. They prefered bus-specific lanes, rather than high occupancy vehicle lanes which buses can also use, because they felt they are less open to misuse, deliberate or otherwise.

What do passengers say?

“You can’t necessarily plan. You’ve got to be early or you’ve almost got to think it’s going to be bad and let it be a treat if it isn’t. You just don’t know.” Bristol Y1 passenger

“Parking is just terrible so it’s sometimes easier just to jump on the bus – and you miss the traffic sometimes as well, which is good.” Bristol M3 passenger

“When there’s an accident anywhere in Bristol, it could be the other side of the city, it could be the smallest bump, and for some reason the whole of Bristol comes to a halt.” Bristol M3 passenger


Transport Focus spoke to passengers on the 28 and 29 ‘Regency Routes’, between the city centre and Tunbridge Wells, with particular a focus on experiences between Falmer and Lewes, where the 28 and 29 run along Highways England’s A27 dual carriageway.

Passengers using the 28 and 29 told us they are generally happy with the routes and the time it takes to make their journeys. Users of the 28 and 29 mention that congestion on the route can be an issue. Locations on the A27 at Falmer and at the roundabout where the A27 meets the A277 Brighton Road outside Lewes were specifically mentioned as an issue.

Congestion was felt to be a problem generally at peak times in Falmer, though specific events, such as football matches at the American Express Stadium, also cause issues.

Bus drivers said some of the stops were poorly designed, making it difficult for them to see passengers waiting and to pull off and back onto the carriageway safely. Users of the 28 and 29 buses felt that bus stops should meet a minimum standard/have a minimum level of facilities, and that many of the bus stops on the A27 fell well short of this.

Bus users in Brighton mentioned that additional and extended bus lanes could be used on the routes to protect buses from congestion on the A27.

What do passengers say?

“I like the bus. I think it’s super essential for me because if it wasn’t for the bus I wouldn’t be able do my job – the 28 and the 29 are super regular for when I need them and quite reliable.” Brighton 28/29 bus passenger

“They could do something about the potholes. When I first started using the A27 I used to do my make-up on the bus; I’ve given up on that.” Brighton 28/29 bus passenger

“I think they could give far more consideration to the people who use public transport, instead of everything being geared towards car drivers.” Brighton 28/29 bus passenger

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