Plans to close a key bus lane in Takapuna when buses start using the $295 million Northern Busway on Saturday have raised a political firestorm.
Furious North Shore City Council members, spurred on by Mayor Andrew Williams, are demanding Transit NZ keep open a buses-only motorway on-ramp at the head of the 1km bus lane along busy Esmonde Rd.
They were shocked at a committee meeting yesterday to learn of plans by Transit - in partnership with their own officers and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority - to close the ramp and lane and require buses to make a right-turn into the new Akoranga bus station.
Because the station and two others on the busway will not open until February, buses will start by simply driving through it without picking up any passengers, before reversing direction towards the harbour bridge.
Although the busway's formal opening is also on February 2, southbound buses will start using it on Saturday and northbound services about a week later.
That is to let up to 400 bus drivers familiarise themselves with the two-lane busway and allow the new surface to settle before their workload increases with the opening of the Akoranga, Smales Farm and Sunnynook stations to passengers.
But city councillor and daily bus commuter Jan O'Connor predicted transport chaos as cars and trucks were allowed to reclaim the bus lane she had fought for many years to establish.
Because of heavy congestion in Esmonde Rd, she feared the 38 Auckland-bound buses carrying more than 2000 commuters along the route each morning may be delayed by up to 30 minutes by having to jostle for space in the centre lane while trying to turn right.
Mr Williams said there had been "a litany of total contempt" by officials towards councillors and "a conspiracy to absolutely hoodwink the public".
"I am just appalled to think we would be involved in removing one of the first bus lanes in the Auckland region."
City passenger transport manager Bill Drager said the lane was always meant to be temporary, and the right-turn from Esmonde St would be an interim measure until the resolution of a legal wrangle holding up a $15 million plan to widen Anzac St as the main feeder route to the Akoranga station.
Transport authority customer services manager Mark Lambert said not all bus passengers wanted to travel to Auckland, and re-routing buses through the Akoranga station would provide "connectivity across North Shore" and better access to the neighbouring Auckland University of Technology campus.
"It will only add a few minutes to travel times."
Councillor Tony Holman said he thought the aim of heavy public transport investments was to reduce rather than lengthen travel times.
Transit busway spokesman Simon Paton indicated after the meeting it may be possible to keep the bus lane open for "traffic management" reasons until after re-sealing work on the Esmonde Rd motorway interchange.