UPDATE: High Court confirms Addison Lee cars are illegal in bus lanes. London cyclists warned to beware.

Cyclists are being warned to take extra care on the roads after the chairman of private hire company Addison Lee told thousands of his drivers that it's lawful for them to use London's bus lanes, when in fact it remains illegal.

There are widespread fears that, as well as presenting an increased risk to cyclists, this action will also delay hundreds of thousands of bus passengers if bus lanes are filled with private hire vehicles.

Addison Lee chairman John Griffin wrote to thousands of his drivers (see letter above) over the weekend, telling them he would reimburse them for fines incurred for driving in bus lanes.

UPDATE: Thursday 26 April: The High Court ruled today that it remains illegal for Addison Lee cars to use bus lanes.

The company has been forced to remove the message to drivers from their website and the indemnity offering to pay for fines is "void and uneforceable", it cannot be repeated.

Despite that they will be allowed to re-imburse drivers in the future - but are not allowed to promise to do so - that would be encouraging law breaking. 

Both sides are claiming victory. TfL say Addison Lee cannot continue to tell driver to break the law.  Addison Lee say they don't have to instruct drivers not to.

Transport for London had already responded swiftly saying any private hire drivers using bus lanes are likely to face personal criminal prosecution.

If there is a crash between a cyclist and a Addison Lee car  in a bus lane the company could be liable. In the most serious cases they and their directors could face prosecution for negligence.

The response from TfL compares favourably with the last time hundreds of Addison Lee drivers flouted the law in 2010 when the Crown Prosecution Service decided to abandon 216 court summonses and 130 penalty fares given to the firm's drivers for illegally driving in the M4 bus lane.

The Coalition Government removed the M4 bus lane to show support for motorists, even though there arguments that the measure was just as likely to increase motorist journey times

LCC's Mike Cavenett said, "It's a measure of the poor quality of cycling provision in the capital that many cyclists see the bus lane network as a safe haven, even though it's shared with buses, black taxis and motorcycles.

"Adding tens of thousands of extra motor vehicles to bus lanes will severely disadvantage bus passengers and cyclists.

"We urge Transport for London to look at the City of London, where both black taxis and private hire vehicles are banned from bus lanes, and to repeal its harmful motorbikes in bus lanes measure."

Lorries in bus lanes

Safe cycling in bus lanes is also under threat from Transport for London plans to allow large lorries in a bus lane on Church Road, Northolt (A312).

Lorries are currently only allowed in a tiny number of bus lanes in Greater London, including Nine Elms Lane in Wandsworth, and the A23 in Coulsdon.

LCC's lorry expert Charlie Lloyd said, "Sadly, cycling in this part of the 'biking borough' of Ealing is already extremely difficult with few safe or inviting routes.

"Allowing HGVs on any bus lane is likely to discourage even more people from making local journeys by bicycle."