Mobility: Major German cities hardly have any new bus lanes

Hardly any new bus lanes have been designated in major German cities this year.

Mobility: Major German cities hardly have any new bus lanes

Hardly any new bus lanes have been designated in major German cities this year. This emerges from a survey by the German Press Agency among selected cities. Bus lanes are considered a cost-effective way to improve the availability of local public transport and shorten journey times, as they do not require major construction work.

No new bus lanes were created in Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart and Bremen in 2023. In Munich, 1.5 kilometers were added, and in Düsseldorf a 170 meter long temporary track was created. The cities of Hamburg and Hanover do not carry out an annual evaluation.

Several bundles of measures ensure expansion in Munich

Most cities did not mention concrete plans for new bus lanes. “The plans for the future are the realization of additional environmental lanes (bus and bike free) as part of cycling planning,” says the city of Stuttgart, for example, rather vaguely. According to its own information, the city of Düsseldorf will in future rely on “intelligent mixed solutions” with special lanes or separate traffic light circuits.

According to the municipal utilities, the city of Munich has decided on three sets of measures for bus transport since 2018, with another set to follow in 2024. Since 2018, new bus lanes have been created over a length of 5.9 kilometers. Although no new bus lane was added in Berlin this year, more than 18 kilometers were added in 2020 and 2021. In 2022 it was 2.8 kilometers.

Expert: The importance of bus transport is underestimated

For traffic experts, bus lanes are one of the measures that can advance the transport transition. “Bus transport has so far been unfairly overshadowed by rail transport. Almost half of the 5.2 billion passengers in local public transport in the first half of 2023 were on buses,” says Philipp Kosok from the Agora Verkehrswende think tank.

"Bus lanes make existing roads more efficient. Passengers get to their destination faster and more reliably. With their own lane, buses are almost as powerful as a modern tram route," says Kosok. Overall, only a small amount of space on the road is given to bus traffic.

This is also clear again and again in the feedback from large cities: New bus lanes could only be set up in a few places because space is limited. Lanes for cars or parking spaces would have to be eliminated.

Reform of the road traffic law is stuck

Legal questions also sometimes stand in the way of designating new special bus lanes. "The biggest hurdle at the moment lies in the current legal situation, said the Berlin State Transport Administration. Actually, the road traffic law and subsequently also the road traffic regulations should be changed in order to allow more leeway for the establishment of bus lanes or 30 km/h zones possible. But the reform failed in the Federal Council at the end of November.

In addition to ease and safety in traffic, climate and environmental protection should also be included as a goal in the law. How the reform will continue is unclear.

Bus lanes to combat the shortage of skilled workers?

Rolf Erfurt is convinced that more bus lanes and other measures for bus transport can also help with the shortage of skilled workers. Bus drivers are desperately needed. “If we can get through this city more smoothly, we will simply need fewer staff,” says Erfurt, head of operations at the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe. The BVG, as the largest local transport company in Germany, is currently lacking around 350 bus drivers.

Berliners are by no means alone with their personnel concerns: According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), more than half of all bus drivers in Germany are older than 50 years. According to the association, up to 6,000 of them will retire every year by 2030 - but it is unlikely that many new people will join them. For the transport transition, public transport also needs to be expanded - so even more drivers are needed.

“A reduction in the planned travel speed by one kilometer per hour will result in an additional personnel requirement of around 100 drivers,” the BVG recently calculated. According to the company, the regular timetable was based on an average speed of 18.9 kilometers per hour. However, this cannot be done on busy roads - according to the information, the BVG buses travel at an average speed of 17.8 kilometers per hour. Due to the lack of staff, the BVG has now thinned out its timetables and is currently offering 6 percent less bus service than actually planned and ordered by the state of Berlin.

Scientist: Trains have a clear advantage over buses

Thomas Richter from the Technical University of Berlin does not want to exaggerate the importance of the bus lanes. “They are right and important, but you have to check carefully where you use them,” says Richter, who heads the road planning and road operation department at the Institute for Land and Maritime Transport at the TU. S-Bahn and subway trains are faster and usually more reliable and can also transport significantly more people.

The railways would also have the advantage of removing motorized traffic from the limited road space wherever possible. To do this, however, the routes have to be built at great expense - which, together with the necessary procedures, can easily take a decade. “You can certainly introduce some bus lanes, but where they are important, they already exist in many places,” says Richter.