Every weekend we dig into the archives. This post by Matt was originally published in June 2016.

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 MoT’s agenda.

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  1. So if they crash into you, you are at fault? Good plan….

    As a matter of course, if the bus is indicating, I let them go. Should be a campaign of courtesy thing.

    1. If you are cycling in the left hand lane, slowing for a red light, and the bus behind you moves right into the general traffic lane, but there’s no room for it to overtake you as the general traffic lane is full of cars stopped for the red light, and so it indicates beside you to move left again, do you stop and let it go?

      1. The law change discussed is about buses gaining priority over other traffic when they indicate at a bus stop that they want to rejoin traffic. What you are talking about is an entirely different and unrelated issue.

  2. If all bus stops were indented drivers could let the bus out at no cost to themselves- you will follow the bus until it pulls into its next stop. But in reality we all know some twit will have provided a bus stop down the road that isn’t indented because of some stupid PT dogma. That means if you let the bus out you will be stuck behind it while it is stopped. The result is we all know you should never let a bus out of an indented bus stop- ever.

    1. When the bus is crawling along in peak hour ‘treacle carpark’ mode, due to the SOV’s clogging up our public realm, I’d prefer to see it not lose its place in the queue, actually. In order to pick up a couple of passengers at a stop, a bus should be able to then catch up to where it was, instead of getting further and further behind.

      Indented bus stops simply provide priority to the most space inefficient, carbon-emitting mode. Seems like getting rid of them isn’t stupid PT dogma at all.

      1. It’s basic game theory Heidi. Drivers don’t let buses out because the next stop might not be indented. Planners get rid of indented stops because drivers don’t let buses out. The Nash equilibrium is no indented stops and drivers that never yield to buses.

        1. If the law can be changed, then we continue playing the game with this: https://i.imgur.com/Rt8T5xp.png

          But if it can’t, then yes, planners need to move from indented to kerbside and then to boarder bus stops with very narrow lanes, lose the median strips (which need to go anyway) and rely on sufficient oncoming traffic to prevent cars going around the bus…

          The alternative, I guess, would be a transformation of Auckland’s transport network by radically reallocating funding and road space to encourage mode shift, and shifting the driving culture through re-education programmes…

      2. Heidi; indented bus stops next to bus-only lanes will give mean buses don’t hold up other buses. Imagine the time stuck behind a bus loading and unloading at Kelly Tarltons if these weren’t set back from the road.

    2. I like to let them out knowing more of the current riders are likely to continue to use the bus and not jump in their car the next day, clogging up the road further.

  3. I used to shake my head watching some drivers, not letting buses out at bus stops. Now, waiting on Meola Rd for the Outer Link, as I do frequently, it is every single bus that is delayed by one – or sometimes four or 5 – cars not letting it out. And they often scoot past dangerously.

    I’d support a law change.

    I’d also support a law change to give buses priority at roundabouts. Buses often have to wait for 16 or 20 cars at roundabouts.

    1. No need for a law change around roundabouts, there are already enough reasons to justify getting rid of roundabouts in urban areas altogether. This would solve a lot of problems.

  4. I think it’s a good idea but only if the bus drivers also get on with it.

    Early morning buses in my area crawl at sub 30 ks early in the run to pad out the timetable and it’s bloody infuriating. And yes I know 30 is the new nirvana. But the queue builds up behind anyway. The returning out of service buses fair crack the whip back to the depot however.

    But I’m guessing that is the reason more drivers than not try and get past. Then there are those who find giving way to anything alien, full stop.

    However anything to speed up bus trips please as they are all we’ve got and they’re are very slow as on a good day.

  5. Back in 2002 to 2004, much of the content of the Traffic Regulations 1976 was moved across to the sets of rules that control what happens on the roads: the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 (known as the Road User Rule or RUR, and administered by the Ministry of Transport) and the Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004 (known as the Traffic Control Devices or TCD Rule, administered by the NZTA). Those two rules work in tandem. It bugs me that I can’t remember why responsibility for the rules was split across two different organisations.

    The underlying objective was to make the traffic rules understandable in plain English, and for them to be more easily adjustable (“easier to change a rule than a piece of legislation”). This split has, in practice, caused problems ever since. The Transport Agency is quite happy to change the TCD Rule when needed, but the MoT has never been enthusiastic about tweaking the RUR. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the MoT has been obstructive. There are so many things in the transport world that just aren’t happening because they fall into the ministry’s domain. The 2014 Cycling Safety Panel report is a good example. The Transport Agency has done its share of the deal. MoT has barely moved on its part. The glaciers on the West Coast are melting at a much quicker pace than MoT officials are moving; on the West Coast you can at least see things happening.

    What do we do when there’s a key player that just isn’t performing? Well, road controlling authorities have the option of not building bus bays but letting buses stop at the kerb line, with other traffic stopped by a stopped bus. Or where kerbside parking is allowed, build a bus boarder so that buses can still stop in the traffic lane. It’s a somewhat clumsy workaround but the best we can do. And often it’s a sensible thing to do as a bus bay eats into valuable footpath space just where you need it most (for bus shelters and other bus stop infrastructure).

    And let nobody tell you that not building bus bays will cause lots of rear end crashes by driving running into the back of a stopped bus. Why? Because the exact opposite is true – bus boarders cause rear end crashes. Before we four-laned Fendalton Road in Christchurch, I trawled through the Red Bus workshop database and identified all the rear end crashes etc. We concluded from the information, without having any doubt, that bus driver behaviour at bus bays causes rear end crashes whereas in-lane bus stops do not.

    1. Thanks for the history, Axel. Table 9 in this 2014 guide by NZTA https://nzta.govt.nz/assets/consultation/guidelines-for-public-transport-infrastructure/docs/guidelines-pt-infrastructure-draft.pdf says:
      – kerbside bus stops are ‘recommended’ for icon and premium bus stops,
      – indented bus stops are not ‘recommended’ anywhere, but are ‘discretionary’ for basic stops, and ‘not recommended’ for intermediate, premium and icon bus stops

      Are these details from NZTA a response to the MoT’s inability to change this law?

  6. I can’t imagine that a small regulatory change that costs next to nothing to implement and yet is an obvious benefit to public transport efficiency has not been done by now. I suspect the people at MoT and the politicians above them, for some reason don’t like the idea and hide behind “it’s not a priority, we’re too busy” smokescreen.

  7. The thing I saw here also was changing the bus lane on tamali drive to a T2 & bus lane which sounds stupid what they should do is make it either a T4 OR T5 which then would turn all these vehicles into say things like mini vans and then it woulg remove more cars off the roads , and make easier for the enforcement to catch those breaking the law by putting a dummy in the passenger seat .

    And would bring back the idea of car pooling

    1. car pooling really only works if everybody in the car has a very similar beginning and end point otherwise there is going to be additional miles travelled collecting everybody. The average occupancy rate of cars rarely moves.

      1. My husband has a work mate that carpools with him. The work mate cycles to our place and then they continue onto work together in a car. No extra milage for my husband and plenty of space for more people to join them if they wanted to.

        1. I don’t know why people don’t do it more.

          As a policy for a transport authority, though, it’s a non-starter. This research is pretty interesting: epomm.eu/ecomm2008/Ed%20Hillsman.ppt

          It shows that policy that focuses on reducing drive-alone rates is not effective, whereas focusing on reducing vehicle km travelled is. To do this, you need to focus on getting more trips out of cars, and reducing the length of trips.

          The closest 10% of employees contribute roughly 1% of the VKT
          The most distant 10% of employees contribute roughly 28% of the VKT

          So employers, rather than encouraging carpooling, should be incentivising employees to shift closer to work. and to use bikes and public transport.

          And if public money is used, it is wasted on carpooling schemes.

        2. Someone worked out the statistics, and came to the conclusion that it is mathematically not possible for carpooling to work at any scale. You need to find someone who is (1) starting at the same place, (2) going to the same place, (3) starting at a similar time, (4) ending at a similar time, and (5) both must not have any variability in their schedule. The chances are astronomically low.

          Anyway aren’t companies like Uber and Lyft trying to figure this out? How are they doing? If they can’t do it, then yes, probably it’s time to finally let this idea rest.

        3. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the ARA had a program for car pooling where you registered and they put you on to people in you nieghbourhood to contact to start up a pooling system and it sort of work for a while and then it like everything it died

        4. I used Uber Pool (true ridesharing) in Melbourne and it worked great. They were ending it a few weeks after my trip though, so i guess there was something about it that didn’t work out.

        5. I think there’s probably benefit in schemes for carpooling at some scales – it just isn’t a good use of public money, which should be being spent on evidence-based initiatives.

  8. On the AM Show this morning Mark Richardson agreed with this policy as he said coming back from Hamilton his driver had a bit of road rage after a bus pulled out in front of him whilst holding up for about 4seconds . And he mention the bus with 40 people on board was better than the car with 2 . So thankyou Mark

  9. There is a common attitude that buses are one vehicle, while SOV are really entitled to their urgent journey not being impeded by the one vehicle of mass transport.

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