While it seems (hopefully) that the big “bus lane debacle” is finally coming to an end, I think it’s probably time to take a look at what the effects of this completely unnecessary and avoidable issues have been. ARC Chairman Mike Lee, as quoted in an NZ Herald article today, highlights the potential for long-lasting damage from this issue:

Council chairman Mike Lee said yesterday that a public backlash against bus lanes might undermine support for public transport.

He said he was encouraged that the region’s annual public transport use had exceeded 60 million passenger trips for the first time in more than 25 years, but much remained to be done.

The city council’s bus-lane policies worried him.

“I believe Auckland City Council has engaged in revenue gouging.

“If bus lanes are used almost as a form of entrapment for revenue raising, it puts the credibility and popularity of public transport in question, and that’s bad for everyone.

“What I’m concerned about is a backlash against bus lanes if they’re used in a kind of Sheriff of Nottingham way to raise revenue from commuting motorists.”

Mr Lee denied suggesting the city council should allow drivers to clutter bus lanes, but said it should improve markings to end confusion about where the lanes began and ended.

My initial response to the NZ Herald raising this issue was as another attack on public transport, and I’m still certain that it would have been a NZ Herald editor or reporter getting nailed for driving in a bus lane that sparked the issue. However, the response of the City Council has – over time – changed my mind as their inflexibility over accepting criticism of the poor signage, has continued to give life to a pretty simple issue that should have died away almost immediately.

Now I don’t necessarily think that the council has deliberately been making the signage confusing to raise revenue, although I can certainly understand that it could be perceived that way. Particularly since the bus lanes are proving highly lucrative for the council’s coffers. However, the council’s reluctance to accept the inadequacy of their signage has enabled an ugly mixing of what should have been two separate issues:

  1. Whether the city needs bus lanes and whether the bus lanes that exist are a good idea.
  2. Whether the bus lane signage is a good idea.

The bus lane debacle was really solely about the second point: is the existing signage clear enough to get across when you’re allowed to enter a bus lane, when you must exit the bus lane and whether you’re in a bus lane at all? The problem is that the council’s very arrogant attitude towards the issue has meant that things have spread into the first point – a debate about bus lanes and whether they’re a good idea.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll actually have bus lanes removed (except for another recent Auckland City Council debacle – the Dominion Road T2 lanes), the real tragedy of this whole issue is the response that anyone proposing new bus lanes is likely to now get. I can already imagine the cries of “you just want to raise more money don’t you!” And this is a real tragedy, as undoubtedly the single most effective, best ‘value for money’ and quickest to implement thing you could do in Auckland to improve public transport in the short term would be to significantly extend the network of bus lanes. This debacle may well make it harder to implement the desperately needed Quality Transit Network, it may make it harder to implement desperately needed bus lanes on Queen Street and so forth.

I still think the best solution would be to paint a big fat green line across the bus lane every 10 metres. That way if people want to work out where 50 metres back from an intersection is, all they need to do is count back five lines from the intersection. Similarly, if they want to know where 50 metres is after pulling into a road with bus lanes, then all they need to do is count the number of lines they cross over.

If Auckland City Council’s immediate response to this debacle had been “we understand the signage could be clearer and we’re open to ideas about how to improve it, please send in your feedback” instead of “tough, it’s the rules”, I tend to think it could have been sorted out without anywhere near as much mess, and without anywhere near as much long term damage for public transport.

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14 comments

  1. There was a big red “Bus lane camera operating” on the downhill side of Symonds street (near mount st) today. I was very surprised to see it there, however I didn’t notice a camera nearby.

    1. To me that sends the wrong message as people will look out for the warning sign and start using the bus lanes if it isn’t there. If they get pinged they will complain that there was no sign warning them. This could lead unpatrolled bus lanes being frequently abused. The 10m marker idea seems much better as you never know when a camera is working (I think I and one other commenter both came up with it separately). The only other issue to really resolve is when someone pulls out of a car park/driveway that is just over 50m from an intersection and needs to turn left there. If they are just over the 60m mark, say 60-70m is it practical to expect them to pull into the general traffic lane for 10-20m, Of course if we did this we still need to check to ensure that people don’t race up the lane, pull into a driveway then turn around and pull out so they are within any tolerance.

      I do agree that it will be pretty hard to get new bus lanes installed now.

      1. I agree that’s a dumb way to do it. Surely it would be way better to simply show in the clearest way where people can enter and exit bus lanes. This will just teach drivers that where there isn’t a sign, the bus lane is free for them to drive along.

  2. I think the positive of this affair has been that the anit-PT ACC lead by Banks and the cit rats have been shown in a very negative light and hopefully will help us see tha back of them at the next election.

  3. I think the issue with signage is a red herring to be honest, the broader issue seems to be that motorists aren’t adapting to concept that in some cases they don’t have carte blanche to drive on every part of every roadway.
    Really, the idea shouldn’t be to mark off the absolute first opportunity when motorists can go back to monopolizing the lane, the purpose of bs lanes is to keep the space as free from general traffic as possible.

    1. I think you may be right Nick, but in situations like this I think you need the signage to be 100% clear so that you don’t end up with what we’ve had and the whole impetus for bus lanes being ruined.

    2. Yes I would also point out the part of the road code that says that bus lanes should may be used for turning left but for as short as possible.

  4. The signage is a red herring; Council has done research which indicates that 98% of drivers use the bus lanes correctly. It’s the 2% that is causing all the heat. Selfish drivers.

    Nick R. also put his finger on the issue; “the broader issue seems to be that motorists aren’t adapting to concept that in some cases they don’t have carte blanche to drive on every part of every roadway.” Road space has changed dramatically in the past five years. Council needs to take a lead in explaining this, and explaining that drivers cannot drive anywhere they like. This needs to happen through full page advertisements in Granny, and not dinky notices in City Scene. It is a failing of Council that they have not done this.

  5. Why is that everybody is blaming the council when the real ogres are those who set the law?

    The super arrogant NZTA are the ones at fault here!

    1. Ah but Chris you fall into the trap of assuming there’s a problem with the rules. My opinion is that the rules are fine, we just need to ensure that it is easy to follow them. If it becomes easier to drive in bus lanes then we undermine all the benefits that bus lanes provide.

  6. That rule has been around for a while without causing problems until a newspaper took up a “crusade” against it. Just because people are angry at having been found breaking a rule doesn’t make the rule setter arrogant.

    Similar rules also exist in other countries, such as Australia, and the rule was (in all likelihood, was before my time) introduced with consultation and on expert advice.

  7. The council is to blame because members of the council are some of the people whining to the newspaper about being fined for driving in a bus lane, and also because the council has by all accounts and purposes been attempting to milk bus lanes to make money not as a means to promote and enhance PT. I think it is the latter that has been pissing people off, not bus lanes per se. No one has a problem with people being fined for driving through a red light, but encouraging red-light runners to make money would likely be seen in quite a different light.

  8. Strange you guys have been having this issue. We can’t get our bus lanes and T2 lanes enforced over here. Very casual. So casual that I don’t think the few occasions they do it people complain very much “luck of the draw”

    Bicycle lanes causing a lot of heat in Sydney and Melbourne, especially that menace, the retired civil engineer who becomes an instant expert on everything transport because he worked for the public works department in the 70s.

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