When a motorcyclist entered a bus lane in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, he came out with more than he bargained for. A trial allowing motorbikes into one particular bus lane appears to have left road users and authorities confused about the law.
Bus lane rules vary widely across the country. For example, in New South Wales, motorcyclists are allowed to enter bus lanes. However, in Victoria, the rules state that motorcycles are not permitted to share bus lanes. That is, except in Melbourne's Hoddle Street, in which a long-term trial allows motorcycles into the bus lane during the peak time of 7.00am to 9.30am Monday to Friday.
This particular motorcyclist entered the bus lane on the off ramp after exiting the freeway to turn onto Hoddle Street, a transition of about 200 metres before the street itself officially begins. He then followed the bus light signals to make a left hand turn, continuing in the bus lane.
A police officer pulled him over and issued him with an infringement notice, on the basis that it was not legal for him to follow the bus traffic light signal. Following a request for internal review the infringement was not revoked.
The rider was then referred to Maurice Blackburn, by the Victorian Motorcycle Council, for advice. We are of the opinion that the combined operation of the trial and the Road Rules means that this turn was legal and in fact necessary to utilise the bus lane from its start point. We are defending the matter, which is currently before the Courts, on a pro bono basis.
Bus lane rules around the country
The confusion about motorcycles in bus lanes is not limited to Melbourne bike riders. The rules about vehicles in bus lanes can be complex, and they differ from state to state:
- New South Wales: motorcycles, bicycles, taxis, public hire cars, emergency services vehicles and, of course, buses are permitted in bus lanes, unless they are marked as ‘bus only’
- Queensland: bus lanes are for the use of buses, bicycles, taxis, limousines and emergency vehicles.
- South Australia: buses and emergency vehicles can use bus lanes, while bicycles and taxis are also allowed into bus lanes during the times marked on the signs.
- Tasmania: bus lanes are reserved for buses and service vehicles, as well as taxi drivers who are picking up and dropping off passengers. Other vehicles can only use the bus lanes if signs permit.
- Victoria: bus lanes are for buses, emergency vehicles and taxi drop-off/pick-up only, unless otherwise marked. The Hoddle Street trial is the only time motorcycles are permitted in bus lanes.
- Western Australia: bus lanes and busways are open only to buses and emergency vehicles unless otherwise marked. A trial was recently undertaken to allow motorbikes and taxis into the bus lanes on two major Perth roads, but no further information has been released about its success or next steps.
The benefits of letting motorcycles in
There are advantages for all road users when motorbikes are allowed within bus lanes. For riders, there are safety benefits to being less exposed and vulnerable, while other drivers experience lower traffic congestion.
The trials in Melbourne and Perth have mirrored this win/win scenario, and the former has been lauded an outstanding success by the Victorian State Government. The trial, which was initially set for six months in an attempt to ease the notoriously congested area, has continued for five years.
Many people hope this positive feedback results in a widespread implementation across the state and around Australia.
The concept of motorbikes in bus lanes works well when the rules are stated clearly to all road users, however the lack of clarity has been the downfall for some motorcyclists during the Hoddle Street trial. With few parameters set officially, the trial has left room for interpretation and has left open the possibility of infringements being issued that should not have been.
Motorcycles in bus lanes? Yes – but unless you understand the rules and how they are being interpreted, you may also get more than you bargained for.