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:
- Whether the city needs bus lanes and whether the bus lanes that exist are a good idea.
- 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.