By NATASHA HARRIS
Auckland City Council officers armed with video cameras have caught 266 drivers illegally using bus lanes.
The drivers, who had travelled more than 50m in the green lanes, were issued with a caution in the first week of a council crackdown.
Officers believe the threat of fines - up to $150 - has already brought a steep drop in the number of drivers flouting the law.
Enforcement officers equipped with cameras have been policing 15 bus lanes in the city since Monday of last week.
The 12 officers have been trained and certified by police to fine offenders who travel in the lanes from 7-9am and 4-6pm Monday to Friday.
Seven roads are randomly policed: Sandringham Rd, Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Great North Rd, Great South Rd, New North Rd and Fanshawe St.
Results show the biggest change has been on Mt Eden Rd near Pencarrow Rd in the afternoon, where the average number of infringements dropped from 136 a day last year to about two.
On Great South Rd, the number of infringement notices at the peak morning time has dropped from an average of 20 to eight, and on Mt Eden Rd from 59 to nine.
Enforcement officer Bruce Sommerville, who policed Dominion Rd near the Balmoral Rd intersection last Thursday, said people would try anything to get out of a fine.
He had seen motorists cruise down the bus lane, see the camera and then abruptly stop to make it seem they always intended to - on yellow lines.
The most common tactic was drivers swerving out of the bus lane when they saw the camera.
On Thursday, a few people gestured desperately that they were going to turn left, but it cut no ice with Mr Sommerville.
"It's a bus lane and I just want to keep traffic moving. If this makes people want to catch a bus, then catch a bus."
Council parking services manager Wes Hogman said the strict policy and fines were teaching people not to drive in bus lanes during peak hours.
"It may seem the bus lane is clear to the corner and that one case may seem no big deal, but it adds up.
"If there was a reduced fine a lot more people would take the chance and we wouldn't be effective."
Mr Hogman said the council took on the enforcement role because of the delays to buses caused by cars using the green lanes.
"Buses couldn't use the signal pre-emption [at traffic lights] as the cars had formed a big line which made the pre-emption signs worthless. Then the cars using the bus lane would get to the intersection and get jammed, preventing the buses from getting to bus stops."
But Mr Hogman said bus drivers were smiling now as compliance had improved dramatically.
"A survey we did in Sandringham Rd last July showed 118 cars were driving illegally in the bus lane. Last week, at the same point, we saw only 12 cars in the bus lane."
Mr Hogman aims to achieve results such as those in North Shore City, where a crackdown last year nearly halved morning peak travel times for traffic.
He said the council might consider using cameras alone to monitor the lanes.
Herald Feature: Getting Auckland moving
By NATASHA HARRIS