TRANSPORT bosses want buses to return to the pedestrian area of Argyle Street in Glasgow city centre.
The route is one of several in the city where Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) officials want new bus lanes to cut journey times.
The existing bus priority routes mostly end outside the city centre boundary, leaving passengers with a frustrating crawl through the city during rush hour.
It is hoped having a quality bus service operating in the east end of Argyle Street between the junctions of Queen Street and Glassford Street, which has been pedestrian-only since the late 1970s, would help rejuvenate the rundown area.
SPT officials say cracking city centre congestion is the key to making bus travel more attractive and combating what they say is a "downward spiral" in the industry, which has seen routes cut and service frequencies slashed.
At the moment, passengers can take more than 20 minutes travelling from one end of the city to another during peak periods as buses take their place on the road with commuters and shoppers travelling by car.
The transport body, which is run by 12 councils in west Scotland, has welcomed moves by Glasgow City Council to extend the Fastlink "rapid bus" service to the SECC and Southern General Hospital into the city centre when it opens in 2015.
Council planners are also seeking to make the bus corridors planned for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 to take visitors and athletes to venues a permanent feature as part of its legacy for the city – another move SPT believes will improve the quality of services offered to passengers.
But officials have told the Evening Times that tough decisions would need to be made over the next two years to ensure buses are given sufficient priority within the city boundaries as new traffic management measures are drawn up.
They warned that a number of developments, including the expansion of the Buchanan Galleries shopping mall, plans for a college "super campus" in Cathedral Street and the redevelopment of George Square could increase car use and congestion unless they are planned in a co-ordinated way.
SPT chairman George Redmond said: "Working with Glasgow City Council, government, the Confederation Of Passenger Transport UK, bus operators and others means we can ensure the promotion of public transport is given the priority it deserves when designing a city centre to encourage economic growth.
"These things cannot be done in isolation. There is a way buses can be brought right into the city.
"Making better use of public spaces could result in reduced journey times, as well as improving the overall consumer experience."
Officials told the Evening Times that reintroducing buses along the pedestrian area would help make the street more attractive to shoppers.
But they have stressed they are not talking about turning the entire 200-metre section back into a road, but installing a single-lane carriageway, about three metres wide, that would be used only by buses.
Glasgow City Council is thought to be interested in SPT's proposals, although officials are cautious about how much road space could be turned over to buses without making it impossible for cars to travel into the city.
A spokesman said: "SPT is a key partner in delivering Glasgow's local transport strategy. "Together, we have already invested more than £30million in the city's Streamline bus corridors and established the country's largest Statutory Quality Bus Partnership.
"Over the next two years, we will deliver the first phase of the Fastlink project into the city centre."
The proposals were given a mixed reaction by business and motoring groups, who warned that drivers should not be "forced out" of Glasgow.
Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber Of Commerce, said SPT had made an "important contribution" to debating the future of Glasgow, but added: "We do not support the simple view that the car or the commercial vehicle should be gradually forced out of the city centre.
"We must, for example, consider the long term health of the city centre retail sector, whose main rivals in out of town shopping malls have unrestricted access available to cars."
Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said he would welcome greater priority measures for buses – but only if good enough services to help them get out of their cars.
He said: "If you are going to make it more difficult for car drivers by taking away street parking and putting in more bus only lanes, you have to be able to sell it to them by making it easy to get out of their cars and get on to fast and affordable buses.
"What we don't have now is bus-based park and ride facilities outside Glasgow, like in Edinburgh."
A spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents bus firms, welcomed SPT's proposals.
He said: "Congestion in Strathclyde is markedly worse than the Scottish average, so efforts to free buses from the traffic – so increasing reliability and reducing running times – are to be welcomed."