Snapped! Buses run red lights in CBD

By Denise Montgomery


My concern began on my way to work not long before Christmas.

Full of joy to the world, I stepped onto the crossing on Albert St, at the Wyndham St intersection.

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The pedestrian crossing's green man flashed to tell me it was safe to cross. I stepped off the kerb. Fortunately I glanced to my right just in time to see a bus hurtling towards me down Albert St... through a red light. And through the pedestrian crossing.

That was where my joy ended. My normal reaction to people who run the red light on a crossing is to feign a kick at the vehicle on its way past.

It's not the most mature response, and is a bit lame because I don't actually kick it, but when it's a bus the whole thing is rather pointless anyway.

The offending vehicle on this occasion was a North Star bus.

A few days later, same intersection, different company. This time it was a Ritchies bus, at around 7.30am, when pedestrian traffic was pretty high, even though many were still on holiday. Another clearly red light; another bus driver deciding that getting down Albert St was more important than any fool daring to cross on the green signal of the pedestrian crossing as they were entitled to.

I've seen at least six more in the past month. A few days after the two above, a Metrolink bus proved colourblindness may well be common among drivers.

Each time I see a red light-running bus, and am quick enough to see the details, I note down numbers and arrive at work seeing red about the whole issue.

I rang and complained to the bus company about two of the incidents. Around three weeks later they called me back to clarify some details and to say the driver would be disciplined. I've received nothing in writing to say what the end result is.

I'm well aware it's not just bus drivers who run red lights. But when a traffic light is sited ahead of two pedestrian crossings and a bus drives through them, so much is at stake. Person v bus, it doesn't take Einstein to work out the loser.

I asked our chief photographer Kellie Blizard to position herself at this one intersection for around 30 minutes for a week, between 8.40am and 9.10am. There's no red light camera at it - so we took things into our own hands.

The pictures tell the story. On day one, she snapped two breaking the law. Other days there were none. But over just two hours she photographed five buses running the red.

Potentially that could have been five pedestrian deaths, side-impact car crashes aside.

In the scariest of our photos, a woman steps onto the crossing, but the bus keeps going through the red light. She is forced to step back and then walks around the back of it. Kellie says the woman appeared to get a fright and quickly headed to the kerb.

Auckland City has 279 intersections with traffic lights. Crashes at them have been the leading type of injury crash through the past two decades.

In 2006, crashes caused by red light running were confirmed as a serious public concern in Auckland, especially in the CBD.

Whether that's side-impact crashes with vehicles, or pedestrians being hit, the frequency is quite hard to believe.

You may remember the Auckland Red Light Camera Project that started in 2006 - a collaboration between the old Auckland City Council, NZ Police, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, NZ Transport Agency, Automobile Association and the Ministry of Transport. The project installed red light cameras at a number of intersections to assess their impact as a deterrent to all drivers running red lights.

Despite cries of it being a revenue-gathering exercise, the cost of crashes caused by those running red lights can't be ignored.

Between 2001 and 2005, there were 689 red light running (RLR) crashes across the old city council area - including 220 in the CBD. There was no breakdown quickly available of how many of those involved buses. All RLR crashes at 13 CBD intersections had an estimated social cost of around $12.5 million, or nearly $1 million per intersection over five years.

When I read about the project at the time, it was all money and numbers to me. It's not until you actually see a bus hurtling towards a pedestrian - brazenly dismissing the law - that I stopped and wondered why they do it.

What's in a driver's psychology that makes them run the red? The RLR project didn't consider their psychological profile - now there's a project for someone.

For drivers of cars, maybe it's a bit of a game - I can beat you - but for buses, what is it? Is it 'I'm bigger than you'?

Or are bus drivers so frazzled by schedules they think they have to grab every second and run? Perhaps the $150 fine isn't enough of a deterrent?

The Wyndham/Albert St intersection that's part of my daily work life was not part of the RLR trial. The nearest intersection to it is Albert/Victoria St. That had 13 red light crashes between 2001 and 2005, ahead of the camera trial, three involving pedestrians.

The cost totalled more than $122,000. Even when a camera was installed there, there were still five red-light crashes between 2008 and 2010, two involving pedestrians, at a cost of more than $125,000.

Cameras are a deterrent, but aren't the solution. Someone needs to get inside the heads of these drivers. Or at least in their ear.

When the bus companies take a look at these pictures, perhaps they will do that.

THE RULES

RED Stop - no exceptions.

ORANGE Stop, unless you are so close to the intersection that you can't stop safely.

The fine for running a red light is $150, whether driving a bus or car.

Read the rules here.

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- The Aucklander

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