Open season on bus lanes?

Outrage within the cycling community was triggered late last week by Auckland Transport’s decision to  support a trial to allow taxis to use bus lanes. We owe thanks to the Herald’s transport reporter, Matthew Dearnaley, for his story on the trial in Thursday’s paper. And today, we find we have an ally in Brian Rudman, who is similarly gobsmacked by the idea to open bus lanes to taxis.

The timing of this news is unfortunate, as we are still adjusting to news of major cost savings on the Dominion Rd bus lane upgrade project, which mean that buses and cycles will continue to share a 3m wide lane, despite planned increases in bus volumes to equal the Northern Busway.

Most bus lanes in Auckland are identified as arterial connections in AT’s regional cycle network. For this reason we asked AT on Friday how the trial fits with AT’s public transport and cycling objectives. AT confirmed the Herald’s advice that Nikki Kaye put the issue on the table by requesting the trial for the Taxi Federation. We’re still waiting to hear from AT, Nikki or the Taxi Fed why the trial deserves public funding, when other longstanding PT and cycling priorities have been shelved because of lack of money. So far no reasons have been given to justify the trial occuring at this time.

In the meantime we have flagged these issues to AT and Nikki.

  • Because most bus lanes are also included in the Auckland Regional Cycle Network, we are disappointed that NZ Bus and Cycle Action were not consulted before AT decided to support the trial (we accept that putting cyclists into lanes with buses is far from ideal; for now it is a pragmatic solution to the tight funding for PT and cycling).
  • Cycle Action has had a longstanding, strong relationship with NZ Bus, and more recently, also works closely also with Ritchies Buses. We recognise that shared use of bus lanes needs careful management by both transport modes. NZ Bus has paid for its drivers to do the NZTA’s Road User Workshops, creating a safer road sharing culture on bus lanes. It is ironic that NZ Bus and Cycle Action were meeting to discuss further co-operation at the time that the New Zealand Herald tried to ring us for comment on the news of the taxi trial.
  • Anecdotal evidence from cyclists suggests many taxi drivers do not understand or respect cyclists’ needs. If AT has spare money for taxi initiatives, we suggest road user workshops for taxi drivers would be a more productive investment of public funds.
  • We note that the trial will absorb staff resources and incur other costs for new signage, road markings and monitoring. We question this expenditure when we are told regularly by AT staff that funds are very limited / unavailable for initiatives needed to help grow cycling and integrated transport – bike parking at train and bus interchanges, more effective monitoring, and basic maintenance of existing cycling infrastructure, (including cycle lane symbols and greening which enhance the safety of cycle lanes). We understand that money is tight, and understand that this means that priorities will be set in a public process (which is what the RLTP is all about) and ‘nice to have’ items saved for better times.

We wish someone could tell us why this taxi trial is SO important to integrated transport, AND in keeping with safety / efficiency of existing bus lanes users, that it has been allowed to jump the funding queue.

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