Close to 600 motorists have been fined for illegally using one of Tauranga's two bus lanes in the first three weeks since enforcement of the lane began.
In September, Tauranga City Council warned it would begin fining people using the Hairini bus lane from October 1.
The bus lane has been popular with motorists using it as a shortcut to escape congested traffic on Turret Rd stemming from Welcome Bay Rd and State Highway 29A.
In the period leading up to October 1, the council issued 409 warning letters to motorists caught illegally using the bus lane.
In total, 579 fines were issued between October 1 and October 19.
Ōhauiti resident Dave Higgins is among the recipients, and he's not happy about it.
Higgins received three separate fines at $150 each for using the bus lane, a route he's used most of his life to get into town.
"I'll go to court before I pay that," he said.
Higgins said he was not aware of any warning that the council was starting enforcement over the use of the lane, which he had been using for years.
"I've been driving down there every time I go to town, which is about once a week or so," he said.
"I wouldn't have driven down there if I had known."
Higgins lives rurally in Ōhauiti and public transport was not an option for him. He said he was loathed to use SH29A and merge with Welcome Bay Rd traffic on Turret Rd like most motorists.
"That just puts unnecessary pressure on the traffic lights and roundabouts."
Higgins said he felt he should not have to pay, given the bus lane had been used by motorists for so long without any fines.
Council director of transport Brendan Bisley said although it was illegal to drive in a bus lane under the Land Transport Act "significant efforts were still made to make sure people were aware of the rules".
This included a communications campaign across social and print media plus the warning notices issued in September.
The figures come in response to an Official Information Act request into enforcement of the lane, which opened on July 6, 2018.
In the response, council manager of democracy services Coral Hair said the council decided not to actively enforce use until changes to the State Highway 29A roundabouts were completed by New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi. This work was done earlier this year, prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Hair said the council did not keep a running tally of vehicle numbers using the bus lane. However, there were up to 380 vehicles per day before the warning letters were sent.
Previously, the council was unable to update the bylaw relating to the enforcement of the bus lane because of ongoing investigations into the Maungatapu Underpass.
In August 2018, former council chief executive Garry Poole approved a Temporary Prohibition of Traffic under the Local Government Act to legalise the thoroughfare until something more permanent could be done.
While this validated the status of the Hairini bus lane, it also meant no fines could be issued. The Local Government Act could not be used to enforce infringement notices on motorists.
However, the work to remedy this was done earlier this year prior to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Hairini bus lane and the Hewletts Rd bus lane are the only two dedicated lanes for public transport in Tauranga.