More than 800 drivers have been caught using a Mount Maunganui bus lane at one of Tauranga's biggest traffic choke points within the past year.
Tauranga City Council figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times revealed 850 infringement notices were issued to drivers illegally using the bus lane on Hewletts Rd and Te Awanui Drive since May 2018.
The extended bus lane was introduced in December 2017 with the council allowing a grace period for motorists to get used to the lane - Tauranga's only one at the time - without penalty. In this time, 240 warning notices were sent to bus lane drivers.
The figures come a year since the NZ Transport Agency announced plans to make the existing bus lane a T3 lane too, allowing vehicles with three or more occupants to also use it.
Transport Agency Bay of Plenty systems manager Rob Campbell said such plans would likely be another six months away, at least.
"We need to make sure that T3 lanes along SH2, Hewletts Rd, will complement the city's cycling and public transport networks."
Campbell said the agency was committed to supporting plans to help reduce single-occupant car dependency but consultation found there was "a bit more work to do before we start a T3 trial" and "we are still discussing timelines".
"It's possible that we will give the new bus network six months to settle in and then review the situation."
In 2017, Tauranga was found to be the most car-dependent city in New Zealand, with 97 per cent of all work and recreational trips in private cars.
Since 2013, the number of vehicles going through the intersection of Hewletts Rd and Totara St increased 13.2 per cent to 297,000 a week last year. At Hewletts Rd and Jean Batten Dr, it increased 12.3 per cent to 276,350. On Wednesday alone about 60,000 and 46,000 vehicles passed through each intersection respectively.
The council, which referred comment to the transport agency, previously stated it wanted to encourage more people to use the bus lanes.
Transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga's Heidi Hughes said the T3 plans were great "so long as they have really thought about the cyclists" who currently share much of the lane with buses.
"Buses and bikes don't mix very well," she said.
"At the moment, for cyclists, the bus lane is not too bad but as soon as you add more traffic it turns into a traffic lane again and currently, there are not really any plans to put a cycleway down there."
Hughes said the ideal goal would be a separated cycleway, such as already exists at the western end of Hewletts Rd. "It's just the rest of Hewletts Rd that's the problem."
A Mount Maunganui woman, who would be known only as Simone, travels Hewletts Rd every day and admitted she had been fined for using a bus lane a few years ago.
Because of that she had not used one since but said she would seriously consider carpooling in order to use a T3 lane.
Simone said the drive to work in Tauranga often took 45 minutes and the drive home could take 50 "and it's a 9km drive".