An article in the herald today has open up an interesting can of worms, should we let Taxis in to bus lanes.
Taxis may be let loose in some of Auckland’s bus lanes in a plan to ease congestion on roads in the Super City.
Auckland Transport has told the taxi industry it will apply to the Government’s Transport Agency to run a trial of cabs in “selected” bus lanes such as along Mt Eden Rd or Sandringham Rd.
The proposal, promoted by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye after an approach by drivers from the city’s fleet of more than 3500 taxis, is vehemently opposed by council transport leader Mike Lee.
Now it is not surprising that the taxi drivers want to be able to drive in the lanes as there is a financial benefit to them doing so. It enables them to be more competitive against both buses/private cars and potentially complete more journeys in the same amount of time which means they can make more money. But before making a suggestion about whether this is a good idea or not, I think we need to look at a few other issues/points that float around in my head surrounding this discussion.
Are Taxis Public Transport?
Taxi companies like to tell us that because they carry the general public that they are another form of a public transport. Personally I think this is complete rubbish and in many ways they are actually worse than single occupant vehicle (SOV) due to the fact the taxi driver has to make additional trips to get to/from where they pick up or drop off their passengers. I would even say that taxis carrying only one passenger shouldn’t even be allowed in a T2 lane as it is technically still a single person making a journey along a route so no different to a SOV.
Do we need to make better use of Bus Lanes?
A reason often mentioned for having T2/3 lanes instead of buslanes is about making better use of the lane available and this seems to stem from a belief that unless a lane is full of vehicles it is not being used efficiently. While it may be the case that we could put a more vehicles in a lane, it is the very fact that it is ’empty’ that allows the buses to complete their journeys faster than they otherwise would be able to which makes them more efficient. Every extra non planned vehicle added to lane increases the chances that a bus will be held up. If getting more value out of bus lanes is a key goal then we should also ask if taxis are the best way of providing that and where does it end? By this I mean why give access to taxis instead of say trucks or couriers or tradespeople which are more likely to be being productive and moving goods around. Now of course no one wants a truck hurtling past them while they are waiting for a bus to come along but allowing taxis will likely have these other road users asking why not them.
Even if we take taxis or any other vehicle out of the general traffic lanes and allow them to use the bus lanes will we actually see an improvement in congestion. I don’t think so as one of the big issues with having T2/3 vehicles in bus lanes is if they are travelling along behind a bus and the bus stops they normally force their way into the general traffic lane till they get around the bus. This was shown along Tamaki Dr after the bus lane there was converted to T2 and the only people who saw an improvement in journey times were those T2 vehicles. Taxis would cause the same issue and could be much worse if they stop to pick up/drop off passengers along a bus route.
Should Taxis have free access to Bus Lanes?
If these companies genuinely think they will benefit from having access to the lanes, which they must otherwise they wouldn’t be pushing for it, then they should be prepared to pay a fee for that access. Providing the fee was set at the right level then it would be an investment for them. Of course charging a fee also raises other issues like compliance and as with the previous point, other road users may be prepared to pay a fee for access. If a fee was charged for access then the money raised can go towards further improving PT services.
If taxis or other vehicles are allowed, should the lanes have extended time limits
One of the biggest issues with bus lanes right now is that most only tend to operate for four hours per day (7am-9am & 4pm-6pm). Even on Dominion Rd which is one of the busiest bus routes in the country and over 50% of peak users are on buses has its priority cut down to these hours. If are to start letting other vehicles use these lanes then perhaps AT need to start compensating for it by extending the operating hours, especially in light of the proposed PT network which will see buses operating far more frequently off peak.
How will usage be enforced?
We already seem to have problems in certain parts of the city with taxis ignoring rules and parking where they shouldn’t be and what will be done to ensure that taxis aren’t stopping to pick up/drop of passengers while holding up buses. We could put rules around it but witnessing the behaviour of many of the drivers it doesn’t give me much hope that they would abide by any bus lane rules.
There are probably a few other points that I have missed but at this stage I am not convinced that allowing taxis into bus lanes is the best solution. It mainly seems to be a way of allowing taxi drivers/companies to make more money while at the same time not really doing anything to help congestion, bus users or even users of general traffic lanes. Perhaps it is time that we as a city started to have a proper discussion about the role taxis should play in our transport system before just adjusting the status quo.