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We have to talk about SUBBs

An opinion piece by Maggie Heraty

‘Floating bus stops’ have been the subject of much criticism by bus users since they were introduced to give cyclists a smooth route past a bus stop, potentially with a stationary bus, where there is a cycle lane next to the kerb.  They come in two forms: Bus Stop Bypasses where the cycle lane swerves into the footpath and passes round the back of the bus shelter or waiting area, separating it from the rest of the pavement; and Shared Use Bus Boarders or SUBBs, where the cycle lane runs straight on between the bus shelter or waiting area on the footpath with a narrow buffer island in the road where the buses stop.  In both cases, at some stage the potential (or alighting) bus passenger has to cross the cycle lane.

SUBBs are disliked much more and claimed to be more hazardous because the group of waiting passengers has to cross the cycle lane in a limited time when the bus arrives.  The buffer island is narrow and this often requires wheelchair and mobility scooter users, or people pushing large buggies, to wait in, or descend into, the cycle lane when the ramp is deployed by the bus driver.  During ramp deployment, the doors are closed to other passengers, which may lead to a crowd of boarding passengers having to wait on a narrow island next to a busy cycle lane.

Bus stop bypasses give more flexibility for passengers’ timing to cross the cycle lane to the waiting area.  The cycle lane is no longer straight which might slightly slow the cyclists, and the deviation might alert them to the shared lane use ahead.

Both designs require zebra markings on the cycle lane at designated crossing points, with warning signs or beacons, although some currently do not even have stripes.  Pedestrian crossings with traffic lights would be ideal but have been dismissed on grounds of the costs of installation and operation/maintenance.  They could be resented by cyclists and possibly largely ignored.  Crossing points can, ideally, be raised to be level with the pavement which further warns cyclists of the crossing and give pedestrians a flat crossing.  In either case, standard textured paving should be installed to guide visually impaired people.  Good lighting of the crossing area is also essential and this might need lighting additional to normal street lights.

There is evidence of former bus users now confronted with floating bus stops, SUBBs in particular, changing their routes, their modes and/or their frequency of travel.  Most affected are older people and other slower walkers, passengers with buggies, shopping trolleys and luggage, and very many disabled people - especially visually impaired people, users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and neurodivergent people who suffer from confusion or anxiety.  There have been serious and slight injuries to passengers reported but many slight injuries and most near misses go unreported, although there are many scary videos on social media.

Cyclists' behaviour in failing to give priority to pedestrians - contrary to the Highway Code - is blamed by the bus passengers in almost all cases.  E-bikes with their higher speeds are regarded as especially dangerous.  There is a seemingly intractable problem in trying to reconcile encouraging cycling (‘active travel’) with attracting – or even retaining - bus passengers where cycle lanes are located on bus routes.   Bus stop boarders may be tolerated as bus users become more accustomed to them, but SUBBs will probably continue to be regarded by many as unacceptable.

Maggie Heraty is an advisor on accessible transport

A BBC video illustrating the issues can be viewed at Warning of dangers with London’s ‘floating bus stops’ - BBC News

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