New figures obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times reveal how many people have been using Tauranga's bus lanes to avoid congestion in two of the city's worst choke points. We talk to people, including a city councillor, who confess to breaking the bus lane rules about why they do it, how much time they save and what they think could help alleviate the city's traffic woes. We also reveal which city bus lanes appear to attract the worst offenders.
In nine months, nearly 900 people have been caught using Tauranga's bus lanes in an effort to get ahead of the city's worsening congestion.
Of that, 828 drivers were caught on Hewletts Rd's bus lanes. Another 61 were recorded using the newly established Hairini bus lane, which opened in July 2018.
Tauranga City Council data obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times showed since July, Hewletts Rd drivers were caught between 7am and 9am and 5pm and 6pm from Monday to Friday. Each driver was fined $200.
In Hairini, the drivers were caught over a one-week period from February 18 between 6am and 10am. None were fined and the week was the only time the council recorded such breaches at Hairini.
For Hairini resident Bruce Cronin, risking a $200 fine was worth it. And it would appear he's not alone.
"There are more and more people doing it all the time," he said.
"I was waiting for a bus one day. I waited about 15 minutes and in that time six or seven cars went down. Most approached it with confidence as if it wasn't their first time."
Cronin said using the lane, instead of travelling a large horseshoe up onto and off State Highway 29A to get into town made a major difference.
"It's not just the distance, it's getting onto Hairini roundabout," he said.
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"The entrance from Hairini St is the only one that's not controlled by traffic lights. You can only get on if someone lets you. Then you have to spend 10 to 20 minutes trying to get to Maungatapu roundabout then spend about 10 to 15 minutes getting back down to the [Hairini] bridge."
Cronin said he was not against buses but felt the lane should be opened up to residents, at least part of the time.
"They don't need a whole bus lane."
Bus 40 is the only route to use the bus lane.
Tauranga councillor and Welcome Bay ward representative Bill Grainger agreed. He confessed to using the bus lane once at lunchtime just before Easter.
"I did it because I wanted to experience it.
"There was hardly any traffic. For me, I didn't think it was a problem at all."
Grainger travels along Welcome Bay Rd onto Turret Rd every day between 7am and 9am and was familiar with the regular crawl into town.
"The bus lane is well worth having it at the peak time, especially school buses, to get them from A to B as soon as we can. But why not utilise it for other traffic?"
The Hairini bus lane is currently under review from Tauranga City Council and New Zealand Transport Agency.
Council's Tauranga transport operations centre James Wickham said bus lane breaches was always of concern and the council was likely to prioritise enforcement campaigns at bus lanes in light of the breaches.
Wickham said there would always be breaches, whether the council issued fines or not.
"We run a fine line between being accused of revenue gathering and being accused of not enforcing the bus lane," Wickham said.
"The more people who decide to use the bus lane illegally, the more likely it is that we will enforce."