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Thousands pay Voluntary Bus Lane Tax

About 3-4 years ago a herald staff member was caught driving in a bus lane kicking off a campaign enforcement of them. Now at least every year the Herald publishes a story looking at how many have been fined and that appeared in the herald yesterday.

Motorists have paid $5.3 million in fines over three years for driving illegally in Auckland’s bus and car-pooling lanes – and owe a lot more.

Auckland Transport has issued more than 62,000 tickets for abuse of lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles since becoming a council body in November 2010.

But it has waived about 16,000 of those for technical or legal reasons, or in acknowledgment of special circumstances such as medical emergencies, and collected $150 fines from more than 35,000 vehicle owners or drivers.

That leaves about 11,000 fines outstanding, and in the hands of debt-collectors.

As the post title says, this is a voluntary tax. Bus lanes and transit lanes are marked and if you’re driving in a bus lane then you should expect a fine. I do find it interesting though that the herald are now aggregating the figures over three years, perhaps the number of tickets issued in 2013 was lower than in the past and it wouldn’t have made as good a story. That thought is reinforced by the comments about bus lane infringment on the North Shore.

The number of tickets issued on North Shore roads jumped more than sixfold from 131 in July to 826 in August. It almost doubled again to 1598 in October, before falling to 970 in November.

Auckland Transport says that followed warnings to motorists in suburban newspaper advertising in early August that it was about to resume enforcement in lanes after improving what it found to have been deficient signs inherited from the former North Shore City Council.

The previous surge in tickets has alarmed Auckland Council member George Wood, even though he was a strong advocate of transit lanes while serving as a North Shore mayor.

Mr Wood, who chairs the council’s regional strategy and policy committee, suspected Auckland Transport might be picking on North Shore motorists “to make sure they can make up their budget requirements”.

“This smacks of a revenue-gathering performance,” he said of the North Shore blitz.

I remember seeing people on social media complaining that there wasn’t any enforcement being done and that lots of people were abusing the transit lanes. So it seems AT did the right thing, fixed signage and started enforcing the lanes again based on the article went above and beyond by advertising that they would be doing it. Enforcing bus/transit lanes is exactly what I would expect them to be doing as without enforcement they quickly become a joke and abused by many who see it as a way to leapfrog the other drivers who are obeying the rules. That the number of tickets issued went down again in November suggests that perhaps the message started getting through.

Far from accusing Auckland Transport of revenue gathering he should be praising them collecting the money from people who clearly are donating extra money to the city thereby helping keep rates low.

The article also points out that Grafton Bridge no longer seems to be a hot point for tickets with the number issued dropping although we don’t know if part of that was due to less enforcement as a staff focused on the North Shore.

Clearer signs declaring Grafton Bridge off-limits to general traffic on week days have led to a marked reduction in tickets issued for lane breaches in the CBD.

In November, 192 tickets were issued, against 1443 given 12 months earlier, according to figures given to the Herald by Auckland Transport.

My understanding is that AT spent millions on the new signs to stop people driving over Grafton Bridge when they shouldn’t be, probably more than they collected in fines. Some images of what the electronic signs look like are below. The first one (blue sign) is on the approach to the bridge while the second one is at the intersection itself.

Grafton Bridge Bus Signs

That 192 tickets were still issued despite this level of signage shows that some people will continue to ignore the road rules or need to be paying a lot more attention when they’re driving. As I say, it’s a voluntary tax and there’s an easy way to avoid it.

32 comments to Thousands pay Voluntary Bus Lane Tax

  • Loraxus

    Thankfully, I wouldn’t expect that those signs cost “many millions” – unless someone seriously clipped the ticket. Signalising a reasonably complex intersection (with all the poles, lights, electronics, new crosswalks etc….) costs between 500,000 and 1 million, so I would expect these signs have cost a couple hundred thousands, but not many millions.

  • conan

    For the Herald this was pretty restrained. They start with the concept that it is actually illegal and only have one negative quote which is more about geographical targeting than outright opposition to it.

    It is astounding that people find themselves on Grafton bridge when they shouldn’t. Given the way the lights are phased now they are basically running a red light to get on there.

    • Loraxus

      Actually, I can kinda understand how someone who drives there for the first time could still miss it, if he was under a lot of stress finding their way to somewhere. But I would expect 99% of the people pinged on the bridge know full well what they were doing.

  • The real article is in “The Aucklander” rather than the Herald itself:

    Call for better cameras after car-poolers wrongly ticketed
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/aucklander/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503378&objectid=11189394

    “Motorists wrongly ticketed in multi-occupancy vehicle lanes want Auckland Transport to use better detection tools such as thermal imaging.”

    • Loraxus

      Even better – abolish transit lanes. On top of the issues with them being abused outright, the fact that for buses they are worse than real bus lanes, stories like this show why they shouldn’t be there, in my view. Of course with AT having created not a single length of bus lane anywhere in its existence (but having downgraded some to transit lanes), the reality does not follow this.

      • Greg N

        I agree, A bus lane is easy to enforce – any vehicle using it is either a bus, or its not, dead easy to check just from looking at it, or from the Registration plate if a visual image is not clear (and they know the number plate now as they ticket the drivers of the cars who violate the rules). Whereas when its a T2 lane, you have to check how many are in the vehicle which is the issue in the above article.

        I think that if you use a T2/T3 lane you must be able to demonstrate you have that many people in the vehicle, so if you have a crouching kid in the backseat as you drive past (which is the issue here I think), thats your look out to prove you had enough people in the car bot AT’s to prove you did not.

        I like the comment at the end that they were let off with a warning rang a bell that did – my wifes previous cars number plate was handed in when she got a new personalised plate issued many years ago, about 4 months after that she got a ticket for some double parking in town, for a car whose details didn’t match her old car (a different make, model and colour of car) using that plate.

        When all this was pointed out to ACC and gave them evidence of the fact that the car who plate this was had changed its plate number months before they wrote back saying they’ve reviewed the matter and will let her off with a warning and to not do it again – yeah like it was her fault the old plate got reissued and not destroyed by AMI insurance..

    • 9 year olds shouldn’t count full stop. It’s a carpool lane, if the child is too small to be seen then he is quite obviously not someone who would otherwise be driving. It’s bout as meaningful a driving with your puppy in the back, or a sack of potatoes.

      • Sailor Boy

        I disagree. If you are dropping your child at school on tge way to work that is removing a trip for example

        • Nick R

          No it doesn’t, not unless that child was previously driving themselves to school. Yes the decision to drop the child on the way to work is one less trip than the decision to drop them off, drive home, then drive back off to work again. But that has no net impact on traffic in the context of a transit lane.

          • Molly Woppy

            Of course it is always possible there may be no other safe way to get to school. But I guess if kids are non-persons that doesn’t matter. I drove my kids when they were little because there was no safe means of crossing a very busy street. By the time they were a little older, lights and a pedestrian crossing had been installed (although red light running is rampant) and of course they were a little more able to negotiate a complicated, urban environment. People may sneer at overprotective parents, but sometimes it is the logical choice.

          • Nick R

            What do you mean no other safe way to get to school? We’re talking about the right to drive in a carpool lane instead of the normal lane right next to it, They can simply drive their kid in the normal lane.

            It amazes me the knee jerk reactions any time someone mentions children or parenthood, kindly read the discussion first before starting on about non-persons and what not!

          • Molly Woppy

            Thanks for your reply Nick. I probably wasn’t clear in that I meant driving in general, rather than in the T2/3 land. However, your comment that children shouldn’t count “full stop” seems to indicate to me that you regard them as less than a proper person. I can see why you make that argument in relation to the T2/3 lanes but the fact is that at the moment they do count. I suspect enforcement would be even more difficult if you excluded children. Personally, I would prefer they all converted to proper bus lanes

          • Absolutely not what I was trying to say. Children are of course full and proper persons, I simply don’t think they should count as carpoolers.

            And for the record I’m advocating that anyone who cannot be seen from outside the vehicle doesn’t count (which would include small children), and I would second that they just be converted to proper bus lanes if we really want to be fair about it.

          • Molly Woppy – Actually it seems to be NZ society that doesnt care about children:
            http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/9644175/Car-restraint-age-must-rise

            “New Zealand has the third-highest child road death toll in the OECD, they say in this month’s New Zealand Medical Journal.”

            If that was SIDS or some other medical issue causing the injury or death of children the response to that statistic would be sudden and swift. Because addressing that statistic will mean NZers need to lessen our car use or take road space away from cars (and back to active modes so our children can travel independently and safely to school) it will be ignored. The safety”benefits” of driving children to school are mostly an illusion.

            That clearly shows that as a nation we value car movement above the safety and even death of our children. Really shameful.

          • Sailor Boy

            Sorry wasn’t clear here I meant to discuss the entire corridor trip total not the vehicle total

      • jonno1

        That’s an interesting pov Nick, but what about the adult passenger who doesn’t have a driver’s licence (for whatever reason)? It all gets a bit hard. I’ve noticed that many drivers flout the on-ramp T2/T3 rules (watching them zoom past with their mobile glued to their ear while I sit in the queue). But I guess that’s a police issue, not AT.

        Greg’s point about the burden of proof is a good one too, although a crouching kid is a tricky one to prove either way. His story about the warning letter is all too familiar – I’ve had one of those where a parking warden stuffed up (I was parked twice on one day in the same general area but didn’t exceed the time limit on either occasion). No apology though. On another occasion I was ready to go to court over a $12 fine! I was incensed as in that case it was outright fraud, not a mistake. Eventually council (as it was then) backed down after I demanded to see street camera footage, but not a good look and still no apology.

        • Nick R

          Yes it can get a bit hard if you get silly about it, but it’s not hard when it comes to children to small to be seen from outside the car. An adult may or may not have a licence, but a small child will never have a licence under any circumstance. So why should a child ever count?

          I think it’s quite simple and the burden of proof should rest with the driver. Basically if your passenger cannot be clearly seen from outside the vehicle then you are not entitled to use the transit lane and should stay in the regular lane. Same with heavily tinted windows or whatever, if you can’t see in then use the regular lane.

          It’s a bit like parking tickets, you don’t just have to get a pay and display ticket, you also have to position it where it can be clearly seen from outside the vehicle for the purposes of enforcement. If it’s not visible, then it doesn’t count.

          • Steve D

            Why does it matter what the child would have been doing otherwise? The point of T2/T3 lanes is to privilege vehicles carrying more people, because we’re trying to benefit the largest number of people possible. We don’t say that buses can’t use bus lanes unless enough of the people on board would have driven. I agree with that Enrique Peñalosa quote that floats around here a lot, saying that in a democracy a bus with 50 people has the right to 50 times the road space of a car carrying 1 person. Well, that logic scales in between, too: a car carrying two people, no matter what their ages, should have the right to twice as much road space.

            Every infringement offence is backed up with an equivalent summary offence, and you can choose to have your day in court if you really want (for considerably higher stakes). It’s the job of the prosecution to prove the elements of the charge there, not the job of the defendant to prove his or her innocence. Auckland Transport should at least be able to satisfy themselves beyond reasonable doubt that there weren’t enough people in the car before they issue a ticket.

            No-one’s perfect. Any enforcement agency is going to slip up from time to time, and sometimes people will get pinged who were entitled to use the lane – but that’s not something to celebrate or encourage, let alone enshrine in law. It’s a failing, even if it’s an inevitable failing.

          • No I disagree, the point of T2/T3 lanes is to move *more* people down a given road than you would otherwise, i.e. increase the efficiency to the benefit of all users as a whole. It’s not a privilege for simply carrying extra humans in your vehicle, it’s a privilege for less congestion (i.e less vehicles) on the road. It’s a small but important distinction in my opinion. I see it as a privilege to use the transit lane because you have taken one or more cars off the road in question.

            I disagree a car carrying two people should have the right to twice as much road space. I think a car carrying two drivers should have the right to twice as much road space. Compare the case of a taxi driver. If I switch my commute from driving myself to being driven by a taxi or chaffeur I’m not actually making an ounce of difference to traffic, congestion or road efficiency. Same thing if that taxi driver happens to be your mum.

            At the end of the day I see them as actual transit lanes (i.e bus) that some private motorists are given the privilege (not right) to use if their use of them increases the efficiency of the road. Basically the point of that is to let buses bypass congestion Part of that means restricting access if so many carpoolers take it up that they congest the lane to a point where buses slow enough that the overall throughput declines. That is the argument for why Onewa Rd should not be T2, because enough drivers would use it that it would congest and block buses and the road would move less people overall than when it is T3.

            Another part of that means if your not actually in a situation that could take a driver off the road then maybe you don’t have that privilege. Note I say “could take a driver off the road”, because “does take a driver off the road” can be extremely hard to prove and open to all sorts of hangaring and litigation to see what is the truth. Better to give people the benefit of the doubt there because the alternative is Byzantine ridiculousness. However I’m not sure if that benefit of the doubt should extend to situations of “could never take a vehicle off the road”, which is the case if you are a taxi driver, or are transporting your pets, luggage, grand piano, potato sack, or young children.

            I think this is important because establishing the ‘reason’ for transit lanes in this way sets the bounds for the most efficient use of the roadway and avoid perverse effects. If you say that children are acceptable carpoolers then you create some situations where it actually encourages more driving on the road, for example removing one good reason not to drive your kids to school (i.e. congestion and time). It also sets up the means to police actions like people who rent themselves out as passengers to single drivers who are willing to pay to flaunt the purpose of transit lanes and weasel the use of the uncongested lane.

            Perhaps if we simply called these “carpool lanes” my position would be clear. Driving your young children around can simply never be carpooling. In the case of taxis, perhaps the rule should be the number of adults excluding the driver to make it relatively fair in comparison. You can of course arrange a taxi carpool situation.

          • Steve D

            if you are transporting your pets, luggage, grand piano, potato sack, or young children

            I can easily understand why Molly Woppy interpreted your comments the way she did: it comes across as you having a problem seeing children as people. I’m sure you don’t really hold views like that, so you might want to think about whether the phrasing you use really reflects how you want to be perceived.

            At the end of the day I see them as actual transit lanes (i.e bus) that some private motorists are given the privilege (not right) to use if their use of them increases the efficiency of the road.

            Well, yeah. I’m assuming we’re talking about a road that has the space for two lanes in one direction, and that has a few buses, but not nearly enough to fill a whole lane. We’re agreeing that T2/T3 is the most efficient way of moving people overall, in this particular circumstance. The thing I’m taking exception to isn’t whether a particular lane should be buses or T3 or T2 or general traffic, but which groups of people should count as T2 or T3, or even as a bus: your logic obviously suggests that a schoolbus shouldn’t get to use the bus lane.

            It’s not a privilege for carrying more people, it’s a privilege for less congestion (i.e less vehicles) on the road. It’s a small but important distinction in my opinion. I see it as a privilege to use the transit lane because you have taken one or more cars off the road in question.

            You’re viewing this from an incredibly narrow frame of “reducing congestion”. As though there’s a certain “natural” number of single occupant car trips, and we want to speed up driving times for the more important drivers by convincing some suckers not to drive. It’s still a windscreen perspective – only cars matter.

            I’d rather look at our streets as a tool for moving people around so that they can live their lives, and in that sense it’s irrelevant who theoretically could have driven instead.

            If you say that children are acceptable carpoolers then you create some situations where it actually encourages more driving on the road, for example removing one good reason not to drive your kids to school (i.e. congestion and time).

            Do you really want the government to be even further in the business of judging who deserves to travel by the “best” mode, and who doesn’t? I’d love kids to have better options to walk, cycle or bus to school, but that’s for their own personal benefits of health and independence, and the benefit to their parents of saved time, and more safety for the general public. Your logic cuts equally well for the many more adults who are carpooling to work: they also could have chosen not to drive at all.

            Obviously, we do need to think about the incentives that we provide that shape people’s travel decisions, and it’s true that how fair a thing is depends on a person’s potential alternatives. But that should mean that people who can’t drive should, if anything, matter more than those who can drive. Banning kids from counting as carpoolers only benefits the adult carpoolers who now get more lane space, despite being the same number of people. That’s hardly fair.

          • Molly Woppy

            Nick said: “Driving your young children around can simply never be carpooling”

            Hmm – tell that to the (mostly) mothers that transport other people’s children in addition to their own, thereby reducing the numbers of vehicles on the road. It happens more than you perhaps you know. I expect that you will say that they should walk, but this is frequently impossible due to distance, safety, time, age of children etc

          • Quite the opposite Steve, far from a “only cars matter” my main concern is ensuring transit lanes remain uncongested to avoid any delays to buses (go stand in front of King’s Prep on a school morning if you need an example of my concern). Furthermore I’m proposing to restrict the use of transit lanes to groups of users whose use of the lanes benefits other people (bus and yes car drivers), rather than just themselves. That is the distinction in my opinion, the case of the woman with her six year old using the transit lane results in no net benefit for anyone but herself (and potentially a disbenefit for bus users). A case of two adults in the car at least has the potential to benefit the group of road users as a whole (Molly’s important point above notwithstanding).

            On your last point, bear in mind I’ve passed no judgement on whether parents should or shouldn’t drive their children to school, or mentioned any alternatives or lack thereof. Parents can still drive them to school if they want, my question is whether they should be entitled to do so in a transit lane or if they should be required to use the regular lane just like everyone else.

            Yes it is true that banning kids from counting as carpoolers only benefit adult carpoolers, but it is also true that letting kids count as carpoolers benefits no one else. That’s the distinction I’ve tried to articulate above. Not counting child passengers creates an external benefit to all users, counting child passengers only benefits their driver.

            Ok, if this is getting too fraught with emotive responses because of the subject matter, how about this for a solution. All transit lanes that are approaching congestion get bumped up a notch, so most T2s go to T3, and perhaps some T3s go to T4 or bus only. If we think that parents with young children deserve to bypass congestion then so be it as long as the T lane doesn’t end up congested as a result. However, I still think the burden of proof should rest with the driver in all cases, if the person can’t be seen from outside the car then you simply have to use the normal lane like everyone else. To me that’s like trying to use a gift voucher that’s hidden in your wallet, and claiming it’s the storekeepers responsibility to prove that it isn’t in your wallet if they want to refuse you the discount.

          • Steve D

            Yes it is true that banning kids from counting as carpoolers only benefit adult carpoolers, but it is also true that letting kids count as carpoolers benefits no one else. That’s the distinction I’ve tried to articulate above. Not counting child passengers creates an external benefit to all users, counting child passengers only benefits their driver.

            Because you’ve chosen to compare it to a state of the world in which everyone who can is driving, and everyone who can’t is not driving. Refraining from driving is not an external benefit: it’s driving that is an external cost. Allowing a car with two people in it into the T2 lane benefits both of the people in the car, at the expense of the other users of the T2 lane, but also to the benefit of the people in the lane they would otherwise have used.

            It’s irrelevant to me who those two people are. It’s irrelevant to anyone outside that car who the two people are – or even the number of people in the car at all. We choose to allow this car, and not that car, because we can only let a limited number of cars in without messing up the buses, and we should choose the cars that contain the largest number of people, to provide the maximum benefit.

            All transit lanes that are approaching congestion get bumped up a notch, so most T2s go to T3, and perhaps some T3s go to T4 or bus only. If we think that parents with young children deserve to bypass congestion then so be it as long as the T lane doesn’t end up congested as a result.

            As I said, I share your logic about deciding whether a given lane should be T2 or T3 or T4 or bus-only in the first place: that is, whether it’s the most efficient use of the road, avoiding underuse but also avoiding delaying buses.

            However, I still think the burden of proof should rest with the driver in all cases, if the person can’t be seen from outside the car then you simply have to use the normal lane like everyone else. To me that’s like trying to use a gift voucher that’s hidden in your wallet, and claiming it’s the storekeepers responsibility to prove that it isn’t in your wallet if they want to refuse you the discount.

            Distressingly, governments in recent years are moving ever closer to your view. More and more laws are being structured as a very broad offence with various defences. But I still think that our society’s traditional ideal, that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, is a good one. Evading being punished by the criminal law when you haven’t broken the law should not be a privilege, like your gift voucher (a metaphorical get out of jail free card?). It’s an inherent right.

          • On your first point, be careful because you’ve also described the situation of anyone driving in a T lane, including a solitary driver. If I’m driving alone and decide to shift into the T2 lane, it benefits me in the car but it also benefits the people in the lane I would otherwise have used. So why don’t we just open up the T lanes to single occupant drivers? Ergo that particular piece of logic isn’t useful here, you have to go to the next step and consider what those people would (or at least could) do otherwise… rather than just how many beating hearts are in the vehicle. So I would argue that who is in the car is the key thing. We cant feasibly have a perfect evaluation and enforcement, but we can probably do better than anyone and everyone who is a human counts as a carpooler.

            It’s a bonus for any one individual to use it, but if every individual uses it nobody gets the bonus (I forget the name for this quandry, I’m sure the economists will know). The point is to let the individual get the benefit only if in doing so there is a net benefit to the whole.

            Using a transit lane, like the gift voucher, is a privilege. There is no compulsion there, nor any true need. In equity terms every single potential user also has the simple default of driving in the lane next to it. I don’t see why the council should have to prove your eligibility for a bonus, particularly when you go to great lengths to obscure it (this is a case for tinted windows in particular).

          • Steve D

            On your first point, be careful because you’ve also described the situation of anyone driving in a T lane, including a solitary driver.

            Yes, that was unclear. I meant, if you’re going to let exactly one marginal car in, and you’re just picking which one it should be, it doesn’t matter to anyone else. It does matter to the people inside the car – we should pick a two-person car, not a one-person car, because the two people will benefit more than the one. But there’s no external difference.

            (I forget the name for this quandry, I’m sure the economists will know).

            I don’t know if that corresponds to a traditional problem in game theory. It’s somewhat like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, but the everyone-defects case is no worse for the players than the no-one-defects case, even if it’s worse for the bus passengers who weren’t players in the game at all, in the sense that they had no choices available. It’s also similar (but not quite) to Tragedy of the Commons, in that the equilibrium case is when the unenforced T2 lane is just as congested as the general traffic lane. In both cases the complication is that the bus passengers suffer the disadvantage, but they’re not players.

            Economics would call that a negative externality, which traditionally is solved with government regulation – of course, exactly what’s happening in this real life situation.

            Using a transit lane, like the gift voucher, is a privilege.

            In the sense of defining the rules about who gets in, sure. But in terms of enforcing the laws once they’re made, the government needs to follow the rule of law.

  • Parking in the bus lanes seems to be common. I’d estimate that during the morning a person stops at 875 Dominion Road every few minutes to get something from the bakery or the general store next to it. Others here can probably recomend a few other places they could do with the occasional visit from a parking warden.

    • Loraxus

      Give buses a time-stamped, sealed camera, and create a bylaw allowing the camera footage to be used in prosecution. Much better than an occasional random enforcement visit.

    • Greg N

      Parking in bus lanes is common and while AT will have the offenders towed after a while, it takes time to organise, and for those who stop off at the local shop thats too slow, meanwhile everyone has to suffer from their selfishness.

      Cameras in buses would be a good deterrent though but I doubt Nz Bus are going to fork out for cameras in their buses – maybe AT should split the revenue for those tickets with the bus companies – they’d all have cameras on them in a flash if that was the case.

      • Don

        Cameras are used in buses in the UK for ticketing purposes esp. on roads with double red lines (absolutely NO stopping). To have an impact only a few buses would need cameras on each bus lane.

    • Luke C

      The Anzac Ave 24/7 northbound buslane is also a popular parking and loading zone. With restricted visibility around the bend is quite dangerous, as buses suddenly have to pull into general traffic to avoid parked cars, not to mention cyclists.
      There does seem to be a camera man here every day in the morning at the moment, so good AT are pursuing the offenders.

  • Simon

    Or bull bars on the front of buses so they can punt the offenders out of the way?

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