Two of the most important requirements to making public transport attractive to use is to make it reliable and for it to be somewhat time competitive with driving. Buses will always be a key part of the public transport picture and so to achieve those requirements it’s critical that buses have priority on our streets. There are a number of ways priority can be given, from a full busway like the Northern Busway, to bus lanes, transit lanes (T2/3) and down to bus advance lanes to allow buses to jump to the head of the queue at intersections.

For all of the various types of bus priority to be effective, it’s critical that they’re enforced otherwise impatient drives will abuse them. Not only is that unfair on those that do follow the rules, these drivers tend to end up slowing both buses and general traffic down as they back up at intersections and/or push their way back into general traffic.

So it’s with frustration that for the second time just over a month we have the Herald pushing complaints about plans to enforce bus lanes.

Cheating motorists using transit lanes on a major Auckland road will soon be caught out by 13 new traffic cameras in a move being described as an “overkill” by the local board.

Auckland Transport is rolling out the new cameras to monitor T3 lanes on the heavily trafficked Onewa Rd.

Incorrect use of the lanes during operating hours includes having the wrong number of occupants in a vehicle or using them for more than 50m to turn.

The cameras should be operational from June.

Warning letters would be used in the weeks immediately following the introduction of the cameras but that would later be replaced by $150 fines.

AT says the new cameras will allow more consistent enforcement of the rules while not requiring staff to physically monitor the road.

However Kaipatiki Local Board chairman John Gillon said having 13 cameras on the one road did “seem like overkill”.

AT have been rolling out automated enforcement of bus lanes and now transit lanes for a while. By automating this, it is more consistent and more efficient than random checks every now and then. It is also safer than having people on the side of the road filming the rule breakers.

The old method of enforcement was officers on the side of the road with cameras

Onewa Rd is Auckland’s oldest transit lane though wasn’t enforced until the early 2000s – at which time ridership and carpooling started taking off. The lane has been so successful that it now carries about 19% of the vehicles on the road during the peak but is moving about 66% of the people and those using the lane move down the corridor about four times faster than those in the general traffic lane. These numbers are also why it doesn’t make sense to make it a T2 lane as so many more people would use it, it would lose all of its benefits.

So it’s sad to see the Local Board Chair, John  Gillon seemingly not wanting the lane fully enforced. If AT were to change their plans and reduce the number of cameras on the network it’s his constituents that will suffer the most.

As well as enforcing the bus and transit lanes we already have, we also need to make better use ones we have, by extending the hours they operate for, and of course, by adding new lanes.

This brings me to an email a reader recently forwarded me about an interaction with Auckland Transport.

Dear Mr Ellison,

I will be brief, but I write to express my displeasure as to my experience on the bus on Constellation Drive this evening. I have been living overseas for the last decade and recently returned to Auckland in the wake of COVID. I see that many improvements have been made, but there are still many improvements to be made as I am sure you will agree!

I commute from Northcote to Mairangi Bay for work; I cycle to Smales Farm and catch the bus from there, and vice versa. On the way home this evening, the bus got stuck in traffic on Constellation Drive, which I only expect to get worse with “March Madness” on the horizon. There is a T2 lane but this is only in use in the mornings.

I catch the bus to reduce congestion and emissions, but I’m not a martyr. Unless the bus is quicker than the car, I won’t continue to do so, and I’m sure many people have already made the decision to take the car because the bus gets stuck in the same traffic as the car (Downs-Thomson Paradox).

I understand that AT is hamstrung by public opinion, but AT also has a legal obligation to reduce emissions. As such, I would like to see the transit lane hours along Constellation Drive extended for evening rush-hour so that it is more efficient to catch the public transport than take the car.

Riding a bike and catching a bus, that’s exactly the kind of behaviour Auckland Transport should want to be encouraging.

Constellation Drive has had transit Lanes for at least as long as the busway has existed but they’re only of use at peak times in the peak direction. Outside of that time they’re used for carparking. Yet the road is quite busy, being busier in the middle of the day than it is during the morning peak.

And here was AT’s response.

Thank you for getting in contact about the transit lane on Constellation Drive.

We work to maximise the flow of people on the network and monitor vehicle volumes, vehicle occupancy and bus travel times.

We use that data to decide how best to manage the lanes. Afternoon peak passenger numbers are low for this direction, vehicle volumes are high and average bus travel times are considered acceptable.

Overall, there is not a strong case for changing the operating times right now.

The transit lane ends 100m before Parkway Drive, and queues back from the motorway onramps delay buses accessing Parkway Drive.

The change of the transit lane operating times would not be expected to provide much benefit in this situation as it doesn’t remove the primary source of the delay. However, a change to the times is something we are considering for the future.

We appreciate you taking the time to get in contact, and to share the suggestion.

The response is disappointing and there’s clearly some cognitive dissonance at play. Buses are clearly stuck in a vicious circle where afternoon peak passenger numbers are low due to the buses being slow and stuck in traffic, which then results in more people driving making the situation worse. The issue, and the Downs-Thomson paradox she mentions is well covered in this video.

The point of including this isn’t just about Constellation Dr as this issue is repeated all across the city.

Auckland’s Climate Plan has targeted for us to increase public transport mode-share from 7.8% to 24.5% by 2030 and to 35% by 2050. Those might not seem like high numbers overall but as I pointed out here, they represent a massive step change in what we need to achieve. Prior to COVID we were seeing just over 103 million trips being taken annually and the 2030 target suggests we’ll need around 300 million trips.

One of the biggest opportunities to achieving that is to make PT more useable and attractive for trips not just to/from the city at peak times. Changing and extending bus and transit lane operating times should be one of the simplest changes AT can make.

Finally here’s how a proactive AT could have responded.

Welcome back to New Zealand, we’re very lucky to have you. As the head of an organisation dedicated to a move towards Healthy Streets and mode shift for health and climate above all, I’m always delighted to hear of new arrivals who make use of our PT system and other alternative modes to the car. As you’ve discovered, by combining bike and bus you can cover a lot of everyday journeys in Tāmaki Makaurau; more than when you set off overseas.

And it’s our mission to continue to make this easier and more intuitive. Benchmarking our progress against comparable international cities is a key part of how we stay accountable.

To your question: indeed our research tells us that… [stuff about travel choices] and so we are constantly seeking to smooth passage for buses wherever possible, identifying quick wins in particular and locking them in to help support the more long-term improvement of the physical network (this emerged from our Covid response lessons learned and you’ll have seen similar in our approach to the cycle network – which doesn’t currently connect Northcote directly to Mairangi Bay but will by the end of 20xx.)

Thank you for raising the question of changing the operating times on Constellation Drive. The data suggests many more people travel in cars than on the bus at this time of day – so improving bus reliability here would help shift that.

Here’s how the process would work. We’ll take this one forward to [whatever committee etc] and keep you appraised of the outcome.

Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch – it’s a pleasure to work with Aucklanders to improve their travel options and we especially appreciate hearing from customers with detailed and positive suggestions. If you have any feedback about the quality of service in the cycling part of the journey please do share – and copy in our head of cycling strategy.

PS We are always keen to highlight community leaders of all kinds who travel by PT or active transport in our communication materials. If you or your colleagues would be interested, may we add you to our list of “active ambassadors”, for future contact?

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  1. “These numbers are also why it doesn’t make sense to make it a T2 lane as so many more people would use it, it would lose all of its benefits.“

    *so many more cars would use it 😉 it would seem we can still move plenty more people, just not cars.

    1. More cars in the transit lane will delay buses and make them less attractive pushing people back into their cars. Result – more congestion, less road capacity.

  2. “AT also has a legal obligation to reduce emissions”

    Take them to court.

    Perhaps Lawyers for Climate Action could comment?

  3. Small correction.

    Local board chair is John Gillon, not Grant. Previously he opposed the extension of the Onewa T3 operation hours.

    On the side note, our ex MP Dan Bidois has also become active saying that AT does nothing to improve congestion by installing the cameras.

  4. Oh, I would so LOVE to receive a letter like that from AT but I cannot see it ever being written. In comparison to their own letter it really highlights how far they are from where the challenges faced by the city requires them to be. Community ‘leaders’ like John Gillon actively holding them back in the automotive age makes the required change to the organisation doubly difficult.

  5. “We work to maximise the flow of people on the network and monitor vehicle volumes, vehicle occupancy and bus travel times.“

    This is AT admitting that the traffic flow is still their no 1 priority!? Where is modeshift, climate action, safety?! Surely this isn’t what their board believes they are doing, or their owner, the council. Clearly it’s still 1965 down in the ranks, time for clearer leadership, and/or a clean out.

    It is generally held that what tiers 3 + 4 do define an organisation’s culture in practice, is this the problem here? Still trucking on like it’s last century down in the engine room?

    1. Flow of people is fine, as people are in buses and they seem to get that, and responded as such in the article and Onewa Rd.
      I think a bigger issue is their main priority is about making no change to streets unless absolutely forced to do so. Especially if on street parking is involved, like it is here.

    2. I am going to assume they mean people, regardless of mode. So that includes the movement of people in buses.

      But I can see how the change in operating times won’t make much difference at Constellation. Everyone gets stuck at the interchange in the evening and the queues just go way back and the buses get stuck in it. OTOH AT shouldn’t allow parking on such a busy road.

      1. There was a proposal to extend clearway hours, let’s see how that goes.

        AT also had better think quickly about how you can enable living there without cars. For starters it should be much easier than it is now to catch a bus to Northcote or Takapuna.

        1. There is a direct bus, using the busway, from Takapuna to Constellation drive, every 15 minutes or better all day. How much easier do you want it to be before we start installing bus lanes?

  6. If we’re waiting for John Gillon to take a progressive stance in favour of public transport we’ll be waiting a long time. Absolutely no surprises here.

    But the core if the issue is, as Matt identifies, that in order to achieve mode shift to the extent of tripling PT uptake by 2030 and quadrupling it by 2035 there will need to be major increases in PT attractiveness. We need to remove the “PT doesn’t go where I want” argument. The reality is that by and large PT does now serve almost all parts of the region. But it’s just too slow. We URGENTLY need much more bus priority, and the establishment of proto-RTN routes to eliminate this argument once and for all.

    The current RPTP does little to advance this. How about the next iteration (this year?) making a plan to actively ramp up the RTN with maybe half a dozen proto-RTN routes using 24/7 bus lanes as a first small step to getting people out of their cars?

  7. I live in Birkenhead and catch the bus each day to work. I get on near Highbury and get off at Fanshawe Street. As a result of the T3 lane, my commute is some times as little as nine minutes.

    The days that my commute is longer than 15 minutes is when there are many people in the T3 lane trying to merge into the general traffic lane, generally because they tried to make the end of a green light.

    I hope the cameras will reduce that kind of behaviour that ends up holding up the buses.

  8. “Overall there is not a strong case for changing the operating times right now.”
    To use AT’s perverse logic,you could argue there is a case for removing the bus lanes completely as not enough people are using the bus to warrant their existence, this stuff is extremely frustrating,as above i’m hoping lawyers get involved,to hell with the monetary cost,we are already paying a much bigger cost

    1. Indeed. As far as I can gather they are saying that there is no demand for an improved bus service… where an improved service does not yet exist…

  9. I think the automated enforcement is great. It pays for itself with voluntary taxes and it helps make bus lanes work better.

    I think AT should just scrap all the T2/T3 lanes and make them all bus lanes. So much simpler for everyone. It is a little known fact that can just pay $350 a year for a P license and CoF and be an uber driver and use the transit lanes all you want, even if you aren’t carrying a passenger. It’s crazy.

      1. I was just meaning T2/T3 lanes. It doesn’t apply to Bus lanes. A quirk of the law means taxis can use those lanes even if not carrying a passenger. And it is easy to become an uber driver and never carry a passenger.

    1. I think a bus needs 9 seating positions. (Land Transport road User rule 2004)
      “bus means a passenger service vehicle that has more than 9 seating positions (including the driver’s seating position)

      bus lane means a lane reserved by a marking or sign installed at the start of the lane and at each point at which the lane resumes after an intersection for the use of—
      (a) buses; and
      (b) cycles, mopeds, and motorcycles (unless 1 or more are specifically excluded by the marking or sign); and
      (c) electric vehicles (if specifically included by the marking or sign)”

  10. About time, this week two people have stopped on Onewa road to go to the booze shop opposite the Z petrol station blocking the bus lane. The entitlement and general incompetence is not surprising but holding up buses full of passengers. There should be minimum $500 fines and start bringing in demerit points. The buses actually often get held up further down where they come off the motorway because of all the cars zig zagging across lanes. Just make them proper bus lanes – half the people in the lanes do not even have 3 people in the car

  11. The Constellation T2 were a debacle. There were more people travelling away from the motorway in the morning peak and towards the motorway in the evening peak when they were installed but they put them in the other way around to get peak buses to the bus station. It had nothing to do with traffic flows or people counts or any facts whatsoever. There has never been a sound case for allowing parking on either side of the road during peak periods.
    The T2s went in because their thinking was entirely focussed on getting people to the CBD in the morning and home at night. If they were consistent then there would have been T2s on both sides in both peaks or none at all.

    1. That’s not surprising. Having said that, according to Google the T2 predates AT’s existence, so the reasons for them being installed is irrelevant to how AT might manage them now.

      And I agree, there shouldn’t be parking allowed on any arterial roads.

    2. Their response makes no sense. If they were worried about traffic flow why would they keep parking there. It’s not buses vs traffic flow, it’s transport vs parking.

      I’d like to know why it’s not 24/7 transit lanes both ways. Who the hell parks on constellation drive anyway, there’s nothing there but drive through burger joints and low rise commercial in a sea of parking.

  12. ML, your letter should be scaled up to A1 and stuck on the AT boardroom wall.

    John Gillon is focused on the next election, so his hedged comment will appeal to people asleep at the wheel who are unable to accept that strict T3 on Onewa Rd and beyond is essential.

    KLB, AC and AT are not constructively working together; governance is in a void.

  13. Is there any explanation on how the cameras actually enforce the T3 lanes? Is it AI based or are they manually checked by back office workers?

    1. My understanding is that there is no approved automated system in NZ for T3 lane enforcement, they only have it for bus lanes.

      When it comes to enforcing T3 lanes its done manually with a two camera system like in the photo for this post. People then need to check the video manually.

    2. I believe they moved the staff who used to be on the street into the office to check images and issue tickets. They’ve said they’ve already trialled transit lane enforcement on the lanes along Albany and that gave them the confidence to do it on Onewa too.

  14. Its laughable that we allow parking on key arterials like Constellation at all. London has just switched the vast majority of Bus Lanes to 24 hour for ease of enforcement and to make cycling in them safer. This should be the default position really.

    1. I remember back in the days when I used to promote the removal of parking on main roads to make way for things like walking and cycling on here, I used to get attacked, accused of trolling and wanting to cover the world in motorways for making such suggestions.

  15. Wasn’t there recently a case on the Shore where AT looked at removing something like 2 or 3 car parks to turn it into a bus lane that would save buses on average 3 minutes at peak and decided against it? That about sums them up

  16. Yes to more bus lanes and having them enforced. Creates feedback circle of better bus journeys, more people catching bus therefore more bus lanes

  17. I don’t have an issue with the enforcement of bus and transit lanes, however the penalty seems rather excessive.

    I’ve never been caught myself as it’s pretty easy to follow the rules, but $150 for driving in an empty bus lanes for 50m is pretty excessive when speeding tickets seem to be about $30. In reality the penalty values should be the other way round.

    I will note that some of time restrictions do seem a little strange and not overly clear. Manukau Rd for example is 7am to 10am Mon-Fri and free on the weekends, except for some parts that are also 11am-3pm on Sat & Sun for no obvious reason given the road is almost empty.

    1. If the fines are affordable, then less people worry about breaking the rules.

      $150 seems painful enough to discourage transit lanes violations.

      Speeding and red lights running fines need to be much much higher as they post a real danger to people.
      <=10km/h over – $100
      11-20km/h over – $500
      20-30km/h over – $1000
      30+km/h over – $3000 + revoke licence for 12 months

        1. The road is intermittently busy over a period of about 15 hours in both directions 7 days a week. In order to cover all of the busy periods, a bus lane would need to operate 6am-9pm 7 days a week. Given that duration, it would be far more legible to road users to just have the lane operate 24/7.

          Lanes that intermittently operate as car parking also have safety issues due to lane changing maneuvers, buses needing to pull to kerbside, cycle conflict with parked cars. Intermittent transit lanes need to be wider to mitigate these conflicts; however, that encourages higher speeds and increases crossing distances for pedestrians.

        2. I lived on that road for about 7 years and it was only ever busy for about 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening. When they changed it from a general traffic lane to a bus lane it made pretty much zero difference to bus travel times for most of it, but it sure made congestion worse.

          In terms of your other points, I agree that parking can be an issue when people start parking their when the road is still busy, like they used to start doing at 5:55pm.

          The main safety issue for cyclists, from what I found when cycling along there, was the buses which are still there. I had almost zero concern with parked cars, as there was enough space to stay clear of any opening doors.

          Interestingly enough, they say kerb side lanes are meant to be narrow so you don’t get people trying to pass cyclists. My preference, for if you don’t have an on-road cycle lane, is for them to be 4m. Others like them to be 3m as apparently it makes people drive slower, however I’m not too how big an effect this actually makes on a 50km/h road.

    2. Yes also illegal parking fines are too low, especially over transit. paths & bike lanes etc ($40/$60). They are reviewing these supposedly. These are also way out of kilter with the newly introduced not having a valid ticket or tagged on HOP card on Auckland transit fine of $150, though they don’t enforce this too harshly.

  18. Great video about that paradox. ‘You take the bus because you’re too poor to drive’. It made me smile cause Auckland went even one step further making riding infrequent, inconvenient and unreliable public transport more expensive than the driving.

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