Sometimes it’s little things that can have a big impact on public transport and a bus full of people, stuck in bus stop because cars won’t let the bus out is a great example of one of those little things. It’s something that manages to tick mist of the boxes on the wrong side of the ledger and is frustrating while wasting both time and money. Some examples of why are:

  • For passengers it makes buses slower and therefore less competitive compared to driving and therefore less attractive to use
  • For operators and transport agencies like Auckland Transport slower buses mean they cost more to run because either more buses are needed to provide the same level of service or alternatively services need to be reduced.
  • For private vehicle drivers, others pushing past buses can slow the entire road down, this was seen following the conversion of the Tamaki Dr bus lanes to T2.
Give Way to Buses
From Perth

Yet changing our rules to make it easier for buses to get of bus stops has to be one of the easiest things we could fix. And that’s something that NZ Bus have now raised.

New Zealand’s biggest bus company is calling for a new traffic law to give commuter buses right of way over cars.

NZ Bus says some buses are waiting minutes at each stop in for cars to let them into the stream of peak traffic.

Two minutes might not sound like much, but when it’s added to every stop on a busy route, it means buses are constantly running late.

“We think letting the bus go first is actually going to be not only good for the bus, but it’s going to have less people in cars and more people on public transport, and that’s hopefully going to be a win-win for all,” chief operating officer Shane McMahon says.

NZ Bus says on average a peak-time bus in Auckland carries 35-40 people. But on busy routes like Mt Eden Road, Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd, Remuera Rd there’s up to 70 people on board.

A lot of Auckland’s main arterial roads have bus lanes, but not all the way into the city.

Buses in Bus Stops

As mentioned in the article, many countries require divers to give way to buses pulling out of bus stops

Drivers in Australia, Singapore, and most of the UK must give buses the right of way. But with bigger traffic problems to fix, the Ministry of Transport says it’s not even on its agenda.

It would be interesting for one of our agencies to do an economic evaluation of the lost time caused by bus delays. A single bus with around 40 people on it delayed by just five minutes per trip equates to around 200 minutes which is over 3 hours, and that’s just for one bus on one trip. Multiply the delays across all buses across an entire year and the amount of lost time would be simply huge. My guess is the BCR would for fixing this would be off the charts and as a bonus, faster buses mean they’re cheaper to run and likely to attract even more passengers.

Now I must also say how good it was to see the media not just talking about the idea but showing just how much more efficient buses are by counting how long it took for the same number of people in cars to pass the bus stop, 1 minute 20 seconds. It’s why a bus lane that looks empty is actually doing its job and why filling those lanes up with electric vehicles is a really dumb idea.

As former (and now once again) Mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa once said “a bus with 100 people has a right to 100 times more road space than a car”. If you haven’t watched his Ted Talk on Why buses represent democracy in action then you should, and if you have watched it, it’s always good to watch again.

This seems like one of those no-brainer changes, it’s insane that this isn’t even on the MoTs agenda.

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59 comments

  1. Some time around 2007 Christchurch CC was implementing a Bus Priority system on HIll road, where instead of pulling in to a busstop bay, the bay was built out and the bus stopped right in the lane while people boarded, causing the cars to have to wait behind. Theory being the bus never loses its place and the cars don’t really lose either given the traffic light intersections along the way they would have stopped at anyway..
    Unfortunately I was part of the “info team” as a student job. Handing out information flyers, lollies/balloons etc and generally trying to explain what was going on to the cars stopped and waiting. It was a hiding to nothing ha, I had more insults and threats yelled at me in those 4 days then the rest of my life combined. No idea if people ever grew to accept it or how long it lasted. Looks to have a dedicated bus lane on Google maps now…

  2. This is one of easiest and cheapest fixes out there that will have a big improvement.
    Of course you can’t just have a bus pull out without warning (as some already do) they will have to follow the law properly (as in indicating for 3 seconds and making sure there isn’t already a vehicle/cyclist beside them before pulling out).

    1. I have no problem with bus drivers inching forward to grab attention of drivers that perhaps the indicating yellow light means that the bus wants to come out of the bus stop! Same thing as when people reverse out of a carpark… They inch forward hoping someone will give them way. Making it a law is a no-brainer, policing it won’t be easy though, but at least it would be a principle confirmed by law… Glad that there are arguments presented on why this is appropriate.

  3. In preference to wasteful bus lanes it works. Most places I travel around the world for work, this system works. Scrap bus lanes and introduce this rule, much more efficient for all. And less dramas than policing bus lanes. Bus just indicates and pulls out.

    1. In some corridors buses are carrying over 70% of the people using the road. So in your world buses carrying over 70% of the people should be able to pull out but they also have to sit in traffic caused by the other 30%.

        1. Why has Ricardo become a bit more rabid lately? His arguments were sometimes almost plausible but more and more they are like talkback rants.

          1. unfortunately the traffic engineering virus with which he is infected now appears to have spread to the prefrontal cortex.

            There is no hope for him now.

  4. I’m surprised this isn’t already in the road code. I thought it was a requirement to allow a bus into traffic as soon as it indicates.
    Regardless, I always give busses right of way if they indicate and it is safe to do so.
    Just makes sense. I mean, what right does a single person in a car have to hold up 40+ people in a bus…?

    1. It is in just about every country in the world, just not ours… yet?

      Also a little known fact, back in the day trams had legal priority over all other traffic including at intersections. If a tram was coming you had to stop and let it past even if you’d normally have right of way. Kinda interesting that they used to do full transit priority with a one line rule, these days we would need separated lanes, signal priority systems, barrier arms etc.

      1. Interesting fact, this type of priority is still in our law with regard to light rail vehicles, which includes trams.

    1. I agree. Extend the footpath at bus stops so the buses don’t have to pull over. Design the streets with the assumption that the slowest moving users have the right of way.

  5. Absolutely buses must have the right of way on all NZ roads. Its common sense and in line with everywhere else in the world.

  6. Why are we still ‘debating’ this? Mandatory give way to buses is just basic common sense. This is another clear indication that AT, Council & government don’t see the need to prioritize public transport if there is any hope of achieving the standards of acheving ‘livable city’ status.

    1. MoT are apparently ‘not even considering this’ according to the report. Are they so busy obsessing about the prospect of driverless cars and other possible future technology that they aren’t focussed on the current situation?

      1. Ah, but rename all Bus stops to “Uber & Driverless car stops” and you’ll have a law change tomorrow. The Minister will make it so.

  7. I completely agree with this. One thing I have noticed when driving past bus stops, however, is that many buses pull out into the traffic without indicating first. If a bus is indicating that they want to pull out, I will let them go ahead of me, if they don’t indicate – it can be very frustrating when they try to pull out regardless.

    1. That’s not my observation. Bus drivers indicate correctly with 1 in a 100 error. Car drivers however are more like 1 in 10 error when it comes to correctly indicating..

        1. Annoyingly I’e noticed a lot of the opposite in Europe!

          People leave their indicators on, for example I saw a car drive for 20 minutes+ on a motorway while indicating left, despite having already moved into the left most lane.

  8. Silly me. I thought this was the law. Always give bus the right of way.

    Have noticed they seldom acknowledge it nowadays. Used to always get a flash of the hazards

    1. I get a wave or thank you blink almost every time. Even if they don’t I get warm fuzzies anyway.

  9. such a move would need to be accompanied by a PR campaign emphasising that it’s about moving people, not just vehicles, witness the guy on the news clip who said he wouldn’t give way “it’s just a vehicle”

  10. Why bother with waiting for a law change that may, like recent NZ Buses seem to be doing, never come.

    There are two issues here.
    1. Letting the bus out in free flowing traffic on single lane each way road when prevented from continuing straight on usually due to some parked cars up the road
    2. Letting buses at T2/Bus lanes “leap frog” other buses or illegally parked vehicles by going into the next lane to pass the obstruction – usually at a bus stop.

    Often for (2) the traffic on the lane next to the Bus/T2 lane is jammed solid with traffic so drivers there couldn’t move to let the bus out even if they wanted to.

    So, as a fix for these problems why not simply paint the bus lanes wider [and longer than where the “bus stop” sign/shelter is].
    So make it two lanes wide on a two+ lane road or out to the median line if a single lane road.

    As its illegal for cars to stop in a bus lane for any reason, then that means that there will always be a “empty” space for the bus to move forward and pull out into once its done its loading up.
    And equally, it will let the bus pull into the stop to let folks on/off

    A few high profile ticketing campaigns by AT’s parking offic i ers will bring reasonable compliance – way more than a “please let the bus go first” campaign would achieve.

    1. agreed, maybe NZ Bus should put its money where its mouth is and put “PLEASE let the bus go first” stickers on the fleet, drivers may well respond favourably, many do already.

      the downside for NZ Bus is that the stickers may conflict with their advertising.

  11. I agree with idea of right of way for buses, but to get motorists to comply you need to have cameras installed to snap offenders. As with Bus lanes, I often still see cars parked in the lane or a car jump a queue some distance from a turning left. You could solve cyclists by making them use the footpath in a safe manner too, as they often double up and slow buses up to.

    1. Why would you put cyclists in more danger, force a significant inconvenience on them for the convenience of others?

    2. I’m not against moving cyclists off road in this scenario. They do need suitable intersection facilities to enable quick, safe crossings. As numbers increase, cycle paths can be built and improved.

      1. I’m all for separated cycleways. Usually the problem is with lack of space – like the saga in Wellington with the Oriental Bay. Then you have “shared path” on Onewa Rd, where if you’re cycling on it, you get a roadblock on every bus stop (people waiting for bus blocking the path), then you have rubbish bins sitting all around the path two days a week (hurdles perhaps), and then you have people exiting their blind spot driveways either by driving too fast, or worse, reversing… Lastly, any detours whether for motorists or cyclists aren’t welcome. On a cycle, you get some speed by pedalling, then you have to do a detour and loose that momentum – most commuters will simply use the road anyway. So if there was a separate cycleway, then yes OK. But for a generic “move the cyclists onto the footpath” that’s ain’t going to work.

  12. This current government is pro-cars. It does not prioritised transit as it would mean taking money from funds which should go into building more roads, bridges and tunnels. It will not change rules to make transit better as it would affect their people in cars. We need a government and council who prioritised transit. We need someone who stands up and change NZ car culture. Taking drama aside, Len Brown must be applauded for fighting for public transit.

  13. MoT arent looking at this because they are resource constrained and can only look at a few things at a time? That is a bizarre reason, it doesn’t sound like a particularly expensive thing to investigate and implement.

  14. This change is a no-brainer; good on NZ Bus for bringing it up. I’m stunned that the MoT hasn’t already been looking at it – although not surprised that Simon Bridges hadn’t asked them to look at it.

  15. A quick search of the NZTA website shows they commissioned Abley Consultants in 2014/15 to “Quantifying the economic and other benefits of enabling priority bus egress from bus stops”. It would be very interesting to see these results.

  16. AT runs the roads. Similarly local government has jurisdiction over roads around the country. What stops implementation of tactical by-laws in our major cities?

  17. I thought that this was already the law – it must have been from my days living in Wellington years ago when the buses all had signs on the back “Let the bus go first” (if my memory servers me correctly)

    1. Buses still have those signs in Christchurch too, but that doesn’t make it the law. It helps to improve compliance but plenty of other motor vehs still just drive straight past. Reinforcing things by making it the law (and educating on this) would definitely help.

  18. Obviously not. The MoT is not interested, so it can’t be important.

    More seriously… it works very well in Australia, except in those parts where the stopped buses put on their hazard lights while stopped (Melbourne, it seems) and you can’t really tell when it wants to pull out. It’s a no brainer, so hopefully this does bring it to the attention of the MoT.

  19. One of the best moments when driving is when you stop to let the bus in, and the driver gives a friendly wave. Paradoxically, giving buses the right of way would remove that experience. It seems we can go two ways with driving — we can change the laws or we can change the culture. Changing the laws strikes me as easier and more effective, so I support this move. But it’s still with some sadness, that all our expert traffic planners don’t seem to be able to figure out a way to change the culture.

  20. I find it fascinating that when faced with an issue around sharing a constrained resource (road space) Kiwis clamour for laws, rules, regulation and enforcement to get everyone to do what is a no brainier. Sure we need things like the RMA to deal with more complex resource allocation issues, but this one, really??? And even if we get our way and pass some legislation to enshrine common sense it’s very existence will go unnoticed. See above the variety of opinions held on the current rules.
    So what is to be done? My recommendation is to put the onus on drivers to work it out between them. Introduce 4way stop signs, remove slip lanes and altogether maker it harder for driving without acknowledging and interacting with other drivers. Then maybe people will think more about how we all move forward together rather how just I get ahead.

  21. Yes this is common sense — buses pull aside so cars don’t have to wait behind them, it’s obvious to me that you return that favour by letting that bus back in.

    The problem is culture. The norm is driving. Walking and especially cycling are not considered acceptable behaviour. Some people will point out that taking the bus is weird if you’re not too poor to afford a car. Most importantly, these non-cars like buses and bicycles and are supposed to stay out of the way of cars. This is deeply ingrained, the issue with buses pulling out is only one example. Others are our unique rule that pedestrians give way to turning traffic, our unique way of building shared paths, the aversion to zebra crossings, and the tendency to apply highway engineering to even the smallest crossing.

    At the same time “NZ is green”. Go figure.

    1. Correct!

      One of those cities runs efficient bus operations, while the other does not. I’ll let you guess which.

  22. Why don’t NZ Bus (and other operators) put signs, like the Perth sign in the photo above, on the back of all its buses now? They could immediately start influencing drivers to voluntarily let buses into traffic. No need to wait for a law change! And then a law change later on, if it is still needed, might encounter less political resistance, if it makes mandatory something that many drivers are already doing voluntarily, rather than giving some drivers a platform from which to claim victimisation if the law change were made too soon. Though of course a law change sooner accompanied by an appropriate education program would be even better.

  23. I have noticed that Manukau Road has dabs of green paint along the left-most lanes in both directions. Are bus lanes coming to Manukau Road?

      1. I heard the bus lane symbols were painted on the road recently but have since been scrubbed off. Is that correct and if so why?

  24. The notion of right-of-way doesn’t actually exist in NZ road laws, only giving way. Right-of-way implies that buses could simply barge their way into traffic without care or consequence. I fully support the idea of requiring drivers to give way however

  25. It would be very easy to let a bus out, if the driver indicated that was his (mostly) intention. But driving around Auckland commercially, I am noticing a growing trend of bus drivers not bothering to indicate. Maybe the bus companies need to sort that problem out. Another problem seems to be buses not using bus lanes, pulling out into traffic when they could be going straight ahead on empty lanes that have been set aside for them.

  26. I suggested this to AT and MoT a few years ago but got the same response it seems. I am just a hapless individual of course but even AT wasn’t interested in lobbying for it either, just passing the buck to Wellington. Craziness. Surely it could be done via a bylaw?

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