Auckland Transport is accused of using "too much stick" after a large leap in revenue from traffic fines.
The total generated by infringement notices in 2019 was $46.3 million, up about 60 per cent from 2017. The number of tickets rose about a third over the same period.
AT said the increase was driven by increased use of technology in a bid to keep the city moving.
But the Automobile Association questioned whether the agency was "revenue gathering", and asked for leniency in areas still waiting for viable alternatives to private vehicles.
AT issues infringement notices for a range of offences within two overarching categories - stationary and moving vehicles.
The former includes parking and traffic offences - as well as punishing people who park in the wrong place, AT can issue tickets for things like tyre defects and registration plates being wrongly fitted.
Fines vary according to the offence.
Notices for stationary vehicles rose by about 6 per cent between 2017 and 2019; the number generated by moving vehicles more than tripled.
They were triggered by unauthorised use of special vehicle lanes - bus lanes and T2/T3 transit lanes for vehicles with multiple occupants. That carries a $150 fine.
AT said it had invested in fixed, permanent cameras to keep traffic flowing: the city had about 1.15 million registered vehicles travelling an estimated 6.5m km a day on the 32 busiest roads.
"It is more productive to have buses carrying 50 to 60 people rather than single vehicles in those lanes," said group manager of parking services and compliance, John Strawbridge. "Plus it is better for sustainability with lower emissions."
The AA acknowledged technology was behind the big increase in fines.
"We don't think more people are offending," said principal adviser Mark Stockdale, "they are just getting better at catching people."
Stockdale called for better markings in special vehicle lanes, so unauthorised drivers knew when they could enter them legally.
Non-approved vehicles can enter special vehicle lanes up to 50 metres before turning.
The Herald obtained details of the increases under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.
From the start of 2017 to the end of 2019 AT generated fines worth about $110m and spent about $35m on enforcement.
Its response also shows the 10 areas with the highest number of offences - stationary and moving - between July 1, 2017 and the end of 2019.
Not surprisingly, Auckland Central was top, but some primarily residential suburbs, including Grey Lynn and Mt Eden, made the list too.
Almost 119,000 notices were issued in the central city in 2019, well over twice the number in 2017.
That dwarfed the second-highest total, in Epsom, where some 21,000 offences were recorded in 2019.
There was a sharp increase in Grey Lynn, with infringements more than tripling between 2017 and 2019. That was likely due to the introduction of residential parking zones, said AT.
The management of parking on residential streets and in town centres kept traffic flowing so customers could visit businesses and residents could park, said Strawbridge.
The AA noted substantial work was underway across Auckland to provide alternatives to private vehicles, but said many projects were a long way from completion.
In the meantime motorists were suffering from more roadworks and fewer parking spaces - as the population continues to grow.
"I think motorists will see AT are making much more money and might read it as revenue gathering," said Strawbridge.
"The AA's position is that there need to be realistic options before the stick is applied, and at the moment it appears there is too much stick.
"We do need to build that public transport network but [those options] need to be up and running before they look at applying the stick-type policies, ramping up enforcement.
"Look at the North Shore bus lane - it's been a huge success because it's fast and efficient. But for other parts of the city there just simply is not that option yet."
Strawbridge acknowledged total parking space was diminishing but said he felt the balance was right. Apps were available to aid people seeking spaces in public and private locations.
"There is a balance to be had, and if someone feels like they have a valid reason for [infringing] they can write in to us."
AT stressed the amount of revenue generated wasn't necessarily what it received. Income was reinvested back into the road network.