To eastern suburbanites stuck in rush-hour traffic on Remuera Rd, it seems there's nothing more infuriating than being passed on the inside by a busload of commuters from less-salubrious suburbs to the south.
Local politician Ken Baguley has been on his hind legs about the inequities of it since the Remuera Rd buslane was first signalled at the old Auckland City Council back in February 2008. For four years, he and his fellow "victims" have been banging on about the evil bus lane, and finally they've worn the transport bureaucrats down.
Last week, Auckland Transport (AT) raised the white flag and proposed a compromise which the locals grabbed.
Instead of having to live with a nasty bus lane, Remuera will be graced with a T3 lane instead, an exclusive lane for Mummy to rush her two kids back and forth to school in the Remuera tractor, which buses will also be allowed to share.
It's not exactly the victory Mr Baguley has long demanded. He wanted the bus lane replaced with a T2 lane, which welcomed any vehicle with two or more passengers, but the T3 is better than nothing and also the sort of encouragement needed to keep the anti-bus lane campaign alive.
What's depressing is that AT's backdown comes on the heels of burgeoning public transport patronage figures. If these statistics signal anything, it's that as new life and regularity are pumped into Auckland's long-neglected public transport network, new customers do, in rapidly expanding numbers, climb aboard the buses and trains and ferries.
In a report to the Orakei Local Board last week, AT pledged continuing support for "the regional policy of maintaining High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes on major arterial roads of which Remuera Rd is one". It said research by AT had identified bus lanes as "the preferred option" on Remuera Rd, but conceded T3 lanes, allowing buses, cars with three or more people, cyclists and motorcyclists, could be considered on a trial basis.
It said T3 lanes "have an equivalent efficiency to bus lanes, but at the same time provide private car users with improved transport options ... and is a more preferred outcome for the Orakei community than bus lanes".
No doubt it is, because it gives the private motor vehicle the chance to claw back the strip of rush-hour roading given away four years ago to the exclusive use of public buses.
It's as though the experts, after four years of political pressure, have given in to the brow-beating. I'm the sceptic. Put an Aucklander behind the wheel of a car and offer them an inch more tarmac and before they've switched on the ignition, they'll be claiming the whole road is again theirs. The July 2011 AT Bus and Transit Lanes Review highlighted Auckland car drivers' distain for bus lanes as soon as we know Big Brother is not watching.
Surveys in March 2009 and March 2010 of the Main Highway-Ellerslie bus lane showed compliance of 98-99 per cent. That's while it was being monitored by the enforcement agencies. In September 2010, enforcement was removed, and by the next survey in March 2011, compliance had plummeted to 66.1 per cent.
Policing a T3 lane is going to be much more tricky, and that's not even the point. The attraction to passengers of a bus lane is that it's the equivalent of a rail line, an open highway that isn't shared. This factor is a key carrot in persuading commuters out of cars and ensuring public transport is fast, efficient and regular. The July 2011 review emphasised the need for effective public transport in a successful modern city. It said in the next 40 years, the passenger network would have to carry nearly three times its current load "at high frequencies with reliable travel times".
Our road system will play a large part in this and "it is in this context that bus and transit lanes are both beneficial and necessary". The report called for the retention of bus lanes along Remuera Rd, Dominion Rd and Fanshawe St.
Noting that buses carried only a third of the people travelling along Remuera Rd in the morning rush hour, compared with 53 per cent on Dominion Rd and more than 70 per cent on Fanshawe St, the suggestion was to "explore opportunities to enhance bus patronage" on Remuera Rd, not to take a step backwards, which is what AT is now about to do.By Brian Rudman Email Brian