Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Barmy bus-lane ruling adds fuel to case for new lords and masters

By Brian Rudman

Cartoon / Bromhead
Cartoon / Bromhead

Local politicians are up in arms about having to surrender their decision-making powers to council-controlled organisations (CCOs) when the Super City opens for business this November.

Yet last week's wildcat decision by the Auckland City transport committee to let cars share the buslanes on rush-hour Dominion Rd hardly supports the case for democracy.

The maverick decision came out of the blue, with no expert analysis to accompany it.

Admittedly, the Citizens and Ratepayers-dominated committee did have a last-gasp breath of commonsense and accept the need for consultation before the barmy ruling comes into force.

Hopefully, by the time that's completed, the new transport CCO will be in charge and will bring a little sanity back to the situation.

Committee chairman Ken Baguley and his C&R colleagues had their rush of blood to the head after considering the results of an experiment which permitted cars carrying one passenger (T2) or more to share a 1.38km stretch of Tamaki Drive busway.

In the morning rush hour, it was found the priority lane previously used by 13 buses now carries 374 vehicles. These cars enjoy a speed of 44km/h, up from the 23km/h they were restricted to in the old general traffic lane. But the 1065 single-occupancy vehicles stuck in the general lane now travel at only 15km/h.

The drop in speed is probably caused by the multi-occupancy vehicles ducking in and out of the bus lane, increasing the congestion behind them.

Bus passengers suffered a 3km/h reduction in speed as a result of the experiment. Overall there was a marginal increase in peak hour traffic of 57 - from 1382 to 1439, with the average travel time of all users increasing by 25 seconds. Single-occupancy users are the biggest losers, with their journey time increasing by almost two minutes. Bus passengers come next with a nine-second longer journey, while cars with two or three occupants gained 1min 40sec.

The C&R councillors saw this as good news. Mr Baguley says: "The T2 trial on Tamaki Drive has had no detrimental effect on buses in the bus lane."

He added: "I believe there should be consistency across the whole isthmus over hours of operation and who can access buslanes. If you drive from the airport to Orewa, you can potentially go through five different road-ruling authorities, each with its own interpretation of bus lanes."

But in this case we're talking the same roading authority. The big difference here is that he and his supporters are trying to translate the Tamaki Drive results across to Dominion Rd, the busiest suburban bus artery in Auckland, which carries more than twice the number of buses. They've done it on little more than a whim that what's good in Tamaki Drive will be equally good elsewhere.

The decision fails to address the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's regional arterial road plan which, as an officers' report to last week's transport committee emphasised, "supports bus lanes in locations where the existing or planned bus volumes are high, and supports managed High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in locations where low bus volumes do not justify bus lanes."

ARTA's opposition to the decision came quickly. Spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said Dominion Rd's bus volumes were high enough to justify a continuation of exclusive bus lanes as per the arterial roading plan.

This says "bus lanes should be considered in situations where the arterial serves a major destination where the policy is to encourage access by public transport, or serves a major public transport corridor" and, among other things, "the section of arterial is congested and the bus lane would offer a time advantage."

In their report on the Tamaki Drive trial, council traffic engineers emphasised the need to consider each route individually, with "particular regard to ARTA's Regional Arterial Road Plan" and that "retaining bus lanes within some corridors is paramount".

This advice was disregarded. Representatives of the bus operators and the drivers oppose the proposal, saying, in effect, why change something that is working successfully.

Labour councillor Leila Boyle, who with her City Vision allies opposed the move, said the decision was showing "a contempt for policy-making which supports public transport as a real choice for Aucklanders".

It was also a decision which provides handy ammunition for supporters of the Super City governance revolution about to take place.

- NZ Herald

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