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Should Vector be able to use Bus Lanes

Vector have thrown up an interesting question by suggesting that their repair crews should be able to use bus lanes to get around the city.

Network lines company Vector wants its faults crews’ vehicles to be able to use Auckland’s bus lanes and T2 lanes in order to get quickly to the scene of storm damage, building fires, or motor accidents instead of having to wait in traffic jams like other motorists.

The company’s group manager network operations Les Parker said the time in getting the power back on, or making lines safe like during Auckland’s four major storms this year could be reduced by up to 20 per cent where traffic congestion was occurring.

However, though the company looked after lethal high and low voltage lines running down roads and streets, did not fit the legal classification of a “first responder” in the emergency sense, like police, fire and ambulance.

Accordingly, they were not allowed to use bus lane.

“Our crew have to obey the traffic laws and they have to wait in queues like everybody else,” said Mr Parker.

Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie said the company had asked the Ministry of Transport whether it could use bus lanes and T2 corridor lanes.

“It would be just for emergency events when there is storm or when a car hits a pole, to give our crews the ability to have flashing lights and get through the traffic quicker.

“This has not found any traction.

“But for us to be able move around the city quicker is really beneficial.

bus-lane

I can definitely see their logic and have some sympathy for what they’re saying however at the same time I’m concerned about whether it opens up the floodgates to others suggesting they should be able to use the lanes too. There are likely many individuals, organisations or businesses that would benefit from being able to benefit bus lanes. For example what about a cabinet minister trying to get between meetings or Auckland Transport shuttles, how about taxi drivers or couriers. In effect the biggest risk is the death by a thousand cuts type scenario where we keep creating exceptions and letting more and more people use them.

It’s also worth considering how many bus lanes would actually benefit vectors crews. As they say themselves faults could occur anywhere in Auckland but our bus lane network is extremely limited and is primarily in central Auckland with some on the North Shore although of course I think Auckland Transport should be growing the number and quality of them substantially to support the new bus network being implemented.

As an aside it would be great if AT could make a map showing all current bus and transit lanes across the city. These maps from AT only show transit lanes, one for the region (but excluding the North Shore) and one for the North Shore.

20 comments to Should Vector be able to use Bus Lanes

  • mbl77

    This sounds like a very slippery slope.

  • Simon

    Easy to set up criteria that differentiate between emergency situations and couriers / politicians. Set up strict criteria that favour emergency services and severely limit everything else, then apply those criteria to the Vector situation and see how they come out.

    • Vector get called for assistance by the emergency services. I’ve never heard a request for an urgent courier from a fire ground.
      As for politicians, drivers of ministers of the Crown already have a statutory defence if obeying the speed limit would hinder the execution of the minister’s duty (and in Helen’s case, the drivers were DPS officers who have separate defences as cops).

  • Steve D

    I reckon there’s much less risk of a “slippery slope” if they’re given emergency vehicle-style flashing lights as well. It’d require similar advanced driver training, provide more of a psychological barrier to using bus lanes in non-emergencies, and using the logic that they are emergency vehicles makes it harder for couriers, taxis etc. to argue that they should be included.

    On the other hand, is it appropriate for a private company to be treated as an emergency responder? The whole argument that fixing electrical faults is an “emergency” also admits that local lines companies are a critical public service and should go back into public ownership.

    • St John is a private organisation, as is every ambulance provider in Auckland. Are you questioning their use of transit lanes? No, you’re not. Ultimate ownership is irrelevant, it’s about the service provided. Hell, if you want to argue ownership, the utilities are at least part-owned by the taxpayer which ought to give them more priority than St John’s ambulances.

      I’m in favour of the idea, because I think it would a) be quite easy to administer, and b) doesn’t actually lead to the “slippery slope” because nobody else gets called for assistance by the actual emergency services.
      Emergency vehicles get speed camera fines regularly. The fines are waived if the driver provides the necessary evidence that they were responding to an emergency at the time. Allowing utility vehicles to use transit lanes when responding to a call for emergency assistance by an emergency service (or when under instructions from Civil Defence) could be policed using the same logic: the driver gets fined unless the utility provides evidence from their dispatch system of the vehicle responding to an assistance request and the requesting service provides supporting documentation that the request was made. Not terribly hard to organise, and quite easy to write into law. And very, very hard for taxis and others to suggest that they should be similarly “enhanced” since they’re not supporting the emergency services.

  • Greg N

    I suggest that Vector and AT (and Police) and any other “not quite, but maybe should be” so-called First Responders come to an arrangement, so that Vector use the lanes when deemed necessary (e.g. by AT operations) and any fines levied are reviewed afterwards, and if genuine reason for using the T2/Bus lanes are proven, these are simply either waived or not prosecuted via the courts – but after the fact.

    Whats the worst fine? $150 per infringement, hardly likely to be a big issue in the scheme of things and I doubt few will have a problem with Vector using T2/Bus lanes in a genuine emergency to get to downed (possibly live) power lines or gas leaks sooner. And if the emergency is that bad, then maybe they should have a police escort.

    The reality is that a declared Auckland wide emergency event (like civil Defence emergency) will allow Vector and related network operators to use such lanes anyway, its only when its not a declared/region wide, that it become and issue.

    This then stops a law change being needed and also prevents the Vector crews getting the Police’s “I’m late for my fish and chips so I’ll turn on the siren” type behaviour down the track – which prevented the Police having the use of their sirens for some time in the 70’s.

  • Don M

    Although I see the concerns about ‘where does this all stop’ I can also see the situation where an ambulance using a bus lane to a bus vs power pole accident arrives some time before the Vector team going the same way and have to wait for the lines to be made safe before attempting assistance of the injured.

    • There’s a coroner’s inquest not long completed of a man who died when his car collided with a pylon on Neilson St and brought down an 11kV line. Fire waited until Vector showed and confirmed the power was shut off, during which time the man died. The use of transit lanes wouldn’t have helped in this case, since it was the middle of the night, but it does show that there are very good reasons for the utility companies (gas included) to be able to use transit lanes to get around such congestion as might be avoided in order to speed their responses to life-threatening emergencies.

  • T

    Perhaps there is some way a first responder could ‘deputise’ any vehicle for the duration of a specific incident, allowing that specific vehicle to use perhaps a flashing purple/green light or something, and the use of bus lanes. Cameras monitoring bus lanes would catch the vehicle, but documentation (or lack thereof) would later show that it was legitimate use (or not).

  • Ed

    I think they should be able to. As important as PT issues are, they’re not more important than potentially saving lives.

    Live lines down are of course hugely dangerous. As unlikely as it might be, I don’t like the idea of a situation where parents have to be told “sorry your kid’s dead, the people who were coming to remove the lethal object were stuck in traffic for an hour.”

    At the moment the Fire Service go under lights and sirens to major electricity faults (lines down, arcing etc) to babysit until Vector can get there. Sometimes a fire crew can be sitting there for over an hour, putting them out of service for actual emergency jobs.

    And on the argument of private companies being emergency responders, while I agree that emergency services should be public, we’ve already got St John considered an emergency service despite being private. So I don’t think giving Vector crews emergency status starts any slippery slopes.

    +1 for requiring driver training before being able to use emergency lights though.

  • Chris

    If we allow only ‘essential services’ then it could work well. Civil defense already work with these companies (power, phone, water), so could align with their list. Difficulty may be in defining what scenario it is acceptable – probably not any callout, but major ones only. Just needs a bit of thought around thresholds, say >10000 households impacted.

  • Gary Young

    If this is permitted then look forward to a heavy increase in lobbying from all and sundry ‘vital’ services and trades to be allowed on the Northern Busway.

  • Jeff H

    Roads are for everyone, bus lanes serve a separate purpose. I’d say ticket first and argue the case later in all circumstances. The term ‘emergency’ is open to all sorts of interpretation. In a genuine emergency paying a fine is relatively inconsequential.

  • Malcolm M

    Greater use of bus lanes for emergency vehicles could help the case for more such lanes, extending their hours, and better policing of them.

    Two more cases to consider:
    – tow trucks called to remove vehicles illegally parked in the bus lane
    – repair vehicles for broken down buses

  • Ari

    I thought all emergency services could use bus lanes.

    • Scott

      They can, but vector is not considered an emergency service. From the Land Transport (Road user) 2004:

      emergency vehicle means a vehicle used for attendance at emergencies and operated—
      (a)by an enforcement officer:
      (b)by an ambulance service:
      (c)as a fire service vehicle:
      (d)as a civil defence emergency vehicle:
      (e)as a defence force emergency vehicle
      enforcement officer means—
      (a)a constable:
      (b)a Police employee who is not a constable who is authorised for the purpose by the Commissioner of Police:
      (c)a person who is appointed to that office by warrant under section 208 of the Act or who holds that office by virtue of the Act

      Use of lanes
      (1)A driver, when driving, must not use—
      ….
      (f)a special vehicle lane reserved for a specific class or classes of vehicle unless—
      (i)the vehicle is one of the class or classes of vehicle for which the lane is reserved; or
      (ii)the vehicle is an emergency vehicle being used in an emergency.

      I think this issue should be handled by central government. If we think it is important for lines company to travel to emergency’s in fire truck or ambulance style then we can add them to the list. Provided they are only driven by properly trained emergency response drivers of course, and appropriately marked.

      I note doctors and nurses can use a green beacon when doing urgent medical work, I don’t believe this gives them any special traffic privileges.

      But where do you stop? Im not sure where to draw the line, but it must be drawn somewhere:

      Transpower should come above vector, the national grid is much more important, and runs at much higher voltages (hence hinger potential consequences) than the local lines.

      If we give it to vector then we will need to match with the other lines companies:

      1 Top Energy
      2 Northpower
      3 United Networks
      4 Vector
      5 Horizon Energy Distribution
      6 Counties Power
      7 WEL Networks
      8 Waipa Networks
      9 The Lines Company
      10 Powerco
      11 Eastland Networks
      12 Unison Networks
      13 Centralines
      14 Scanpower
      15 Electra
      16 Nelson Electricity
      17 Marlborough Lines
      18 Network Tasman
      19 Buller Electricity
      20 Westpower
      21 Mainpower
      22 Orion
      23 Electricity Ashburton
      24 Alpine Energy
      25 Aurora Energy
      26 The Power Company/ Electricity Invercargill JV
      27 OtagoNet
      28 Network Waitaki
      29 Wellington Electricity Lines Limited

      Other possible candidates:

      – Non ambulance medical staff, i.e. midwife rushing to conceive a baby.
      – Search and rescue teams. – i.e. bush, cave, mountain, swift-water
      – Surf lifesaver volunteers rushing to an after hours rescue.
      – Coastguard
      – Industry specific emergency teams: i.e. mine rescue, hazardous material response team, potentially explosive atmosphere rescue.
      – Environmental response teams responding to say a maritime oil spill.
      – Private operators of specialist equipment that is useful in an emergency: i.e. Mobile cranes, tow trucks, excavators etc

      I don’t know the answer, but vector can’t be looked at isolation.

  • Martin

    Backwards NZ. If all of our power lines were below ground as they are in most modern cities (in Europe anyway), we would not even be having this conversation. Note here in the UK, emergency services are not allowed to use the bus lanes, that is what their sirens and blue lights are for.

  • I suppose you could create a new category, say “urgent service vehicle”, and allow them to use bus lanes in similar circumstances when travelling on an urgent service trip – with appropriate flashing lights (say, purple, to differentiate from both emergency services and orange-light service vehicles like towtrucks and rubbish trucks which should not be in the bus lanes). These could include the categories Scott listed above.

    And/or it could be a requirement that these vehicles need to radio/call AT (or the local transport authority) for clearance to use the lights and enter the bus lanes each time.

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