Ponsonby business owner Bruce Copeland rides a bike, drives a car, occasionally catches the bus, and has been thinking about the way we treat each other on the road, after a run-in with a big metal box a few months ago.

Here’s Bruce’s story…

I’ve been road riding regularly again for the last ten years or so, and generally it’s gone pretty well with regards to safety. (Keep that on the downlow, though –  I don’t like to gloat; you know how it works, gloating one week, under a car and in hospital the next.)

It’s hard to know whether you just get used to being in close proximity with fellow road users in hard steel boxes, or whether driving behaviour is genuinely getting better.  I like to think the latter.

Unusually, then, at the end of March I had a run in with a bus. I guess it’s not easy driving a bus in Auckland’s traffic – if it’s frustrating in a car, it must be very frustrating driving a bus and keeping to a timetable. So I’m inclined to cut a bus some slack; they really do have a justified sense of entitlement when it comes to the road. (And if a bike is “one less car”, then a full bus is something to be proud of when it comes to minimising congestion).

Long story short, on that Sunday afternoon, I’d thought the bus and I had been getting along just fine for the previous few kilometres. Traffic was light, and there was plenty of road space for everyone. But I was oblivious that simply by riding down Symonds Street in the bus lane at speeds of around 50kph, I’d apparently slowly infuriated the bus driver.

I only became aware of this when we closed into the left turn at K Road. The bus came alongside, and as we slowed to a stop, the driver deliberately pulled to the left and trapped me between the bus and the curb. I had to stop and jump up onto the footpath.

Grrrrr. I wasn’t happy. But in recent years I’ve worked on my self-control, because it’s been pointed out to me that it does our cause no good having angry cyclists on the roads, swearing and waving digits.

The bus stopped just around the corner, and I asked the bus driver: “Why??” He said I shouldn’t have been in the bus lane, I should have been on the shared space on the footpath.

It was clear he knew exactly what he’d done and why. I retorted that I had every right to use the bus lane, and besides, even if he was correct, he shouldn’t be using his bus to teach me a lesson.

That was why I decided to complain to Auckland Transport, which brings me to the point of this story. It was easy finding AT’s number, and toot sweet, a very nice person took down all the details in a very efficient and compassionate manner. They even called back and asked for the photos I took so they could identify the bus and driver.

Since then?

Complete silence.

I’ve tried following up…  same result.

I still bristle with indignation when I think of it. But then, I wasn’t hurt, so should I just bury it and move on? Then again, I think to myself: this bus driver isn’t in a good space, and a member of the public has advised AT of that, and they have possibly failed to act. What if this driver carries on the same way, and seriously injures or kills someone? These days businesses are obligated to operate safe workplaces. Isn’t a robust process for handling complaints an essential component of AT knowing that their drivers are competent, like the equivalent of a truck’s “How’s my Driving” number?

I wanted some followup. I still do. Ideally, I’d like to have met the driver, and done a little restorative justice exercise. Have him realise that I’m Maurice’s son, Janine’s husband and Jamie’s Dad – that people rely on me. I could have heard his side of things, understood why he was getting frustrated that day, and maybe I could be more considerate in future.

I still wonder whether AT did anything with my report, or whether there is a massive pile of complaints composting at AT?

And I wonder, have others had a similar experience?

Whenever I go past the Ghost Bike on Tamaki Drive honouring Jane Bishop, I think “Auckland should have done better by Jane.” And every time I ride past, I promise her we will. We will get better, safer infrastructure that means we’re not forced into situations like the one I encountered, and the one that took her life. But in the meantime, a lot can be done with a little more respect.

— Bruce Copeland

Not Bruce's bike, not this time. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/north-shore/traffic-delays-on-military-rd-neutral-bay-after-cyclist-killed-in-bus-collision/story-fngr8h9d-1226902458044
Not Bruce’s bike, not Bruce, thank goodness.
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Auckland Transport Cycling safety
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10 responses to “With respect: some thoughts on sharing the road

  1. While I agree, Auckland Transport should be aware of issues with drivers, they are actually employed by the individual bus companies. AT doesn’t have a direct relationship with the drivers. A complaint to the bus company would be more likely to reach the driver concerned.

    1. agreed, but lodging one with AT makes sure the complaints are at least recorded.

  2. It is terrifying to think there is a bus driver out there who is prepared to use their vehicle in the way you described Bruce. The particular section of shared path that you were expected to use is very narrow, bumpy, has poles in it and pedestrians who are frequently plugged into their headphones and oblivious when walking downhill to approaching cyclists. I can fully understand why you chose to use the road where it is not difficult to keep up with the cars being a downward run.

    I had a similar experience some years ago with an NZBus vehicle. Instead of contacting Auckland Transport I rang NZBus. Eventually I was put through to the CEO in Wellington. The upshot was the first bus bike workshop in Auckland where cyclists and drivers go through exercises together on bicycles and in buses to understand each others world. Today I have the privilege of managing the Road User Workshop programme that runs these workshops around the country with Bus and Truck operators, and representatives from cycling groups.

    Today we are doing at least 6 workshops a year with batches of NZBus drivers and trainees in Auckland and Wellington. Next week we will be doing a workshop in Christchurch with the main bus operators there. I hope you will be encouraged Bruce that all the drivers that go through these workshops report a high level of empathy towards cyclists as a result of the workshop. And vice versa cyclists who participated are much more likely to let a bus pull out in front of them to get underway, and do not attempt to pass buses on the left (in the blind spot). NZBus get reports from AT as to the numbers of complaints received about their drivers, these have diminished since the workshops have started. Likewise the workshops run by the Wellington Regional Council have resulted in a reduction of complaints. Would you like to join us in the next workshop in Auckland where you can share your story?

    A Driver Trainer who works for a Rotorua Forestry Haulage company told me recently that every day heavy vehicle drivers are making decisions to mitigate the outcomes of bad decisions made by other road users. I have seen in cab videos of some shockers. Likewise cycling daily I have been on the receiving end of actions by road users that I put down to stress caused by congestion. While we are seeing increased investment into cycling infrastructure and vehicle technology, we will have to manage conflict in the road corridor for some time to come. A senior Traffic Engineer in Christchurch suggested to me that if we all left home 15 minutes earlier, much of the stress of getting around could be alleviated.

    None of this probably helps the memory of your encounter with that driver. I hope it doesn’t put you off cycling Bruce, if it means anything, I am meeting heavy vehicle drivers and trainers almost daily who are committed improving this situation. Could I finish with the words of a trainee driver at a workshop on the Northshore last month “It is our duty to protect cyclists with our vehicles”. Richard Barter, Road User Workshop Project Manager CAN.

  3. When filtering between 2 lanes of slow traffic on Rata St/Ash St, a car driver tried to prevent me from passing by keeping close to the adjacent car. When finally a sufficient gap appeared and I passed him (quite slowly) he told me that I should be on the footpath not the road. He clearly failed to realise that in most instances it’s not legal or appropriate for cyclists to cycle on the footpath. He clearly resented sharing the road with cyclists even though I was causing him no inconvenience. I worry that the more we build shared pedestrian/cycle paths the more we will create this mindset in drivers, but we still won’t have the infrastructure to allow cyclists to commute entirely off road. We need a campaign telling drivers that cyclists have a right to be on the road and they need to share with care.

  4. AT’s complaints service was good when the problem was buses not stopping at bus stops. For anything else they weren’t at all responsive.

  5. Just a casual observation but it seems to me there are significantly more cyclists around this year than in previous years. Last night on my way home I rode with a peloton from Auckland Grammar along Quay St (it was a struggle to keep up!). In Newmarket I was one of 6 people on bikes waiting at the lights to turn from Khyber Pass into Broadway, and riding up Remuera Rd there were four of us. This morning on Gt South Rd there were three of us heading up the hill to Market Rd and on the Beach Rd cycleway (short though it is) I normally see two or more others. It certainly brings a sense of solidarity and safety in numbers.

    In contrast on a typical commute from 2 or 3 years ago I would be lucky to see a single other bike on the entire journey.

  6. I’ve had the exact same problem in the exact same place, a bus driver pulled alongside me and cut in to the K’ Road turn before completing the pass, swiping me left. These days I take the centre of the right hand lane from Alex Evans Street to Wakefield Street. Left turning traffic and anyone in a burning hurry can pass left in the marked lane. It also sets me up to avoid the bus stop at Grafton Bridge junction.

    Coming back the other way for the right turn into Alex Evans Street, the safest place to be is also slap bang in the middle of the right hand traffic lane, avoiding buses turning left into the bridge or proceeding on to the bus lane and traffic entering the SH1 slip from the left hand lane. Motorists in a hurry to pass can legally do so in the left hand lane.

    As for the shared path on the bridge, it would be fine it not for the inadequate width, street furniture, single direction and indirect connection to onward routes.

    Punishment passes like that are a threat of deadly force, much the same as someone swinging a sledgehammer at your face. Do not let it slide.

  7. You’ll infuriate plenty of people simply by being there on a bike. Nothing to do with riding slowly or fast or in the wrong place. Likewise, a lot of people deliberately drive on the cycle lanes, even if they have meters of empty space on their right side. At least now bikes are becoming a more common sight so I hope this attitude will change.

    I had a close encounter with a bus once, but nothing like what you described. A bus caught up with me at a pinch point when riding northbound past the Glenfield mall. The cycle lanes on that part of Glenfield Road start and stop at weird places, one of them being right in front of a traffic light. The odd thing is, southbound there is a more or less continuous lane.

    Something I noticed about buses is, since have their engines in the back, on downhill sections you don’t hear them, even if they are 1 meter behind you.

  8. I had a very similar experience around that same time. Definetly not the same bus though mine was an inner link. Got squeezed to the kurb on anzac day morning at the roundabout at Broadway. Went past driver up the road near blind institute and shouted at him as he had run me off the road, I kept going then he caught up to me, swerved his bus at me and tried to hit me, opened the door and proceeded to tell me I should get on the bus so we could finish off what we started (I assumed he wanted a physical fight) I simply replied that he was a nutcase and hoped he got fired after I complained, which I did, and got a response back from AT about a week later saying the info I provided helped them identify the driver and he had been disciplined. Not sure what that was as they cant say obviously

  9. This has happened to me many times, and often when there is no off road shard path. Just simply riding in the bus lane is enough to get bus drivers grumpy at us. My advice is to at least make a complaint on AT’s website. Last year there were close to 3000 complaints against bus drivers (amazing isnt it!). If you are knocked off your bike or similar go straight to the Police station and make a complaint. As Bruce did, take photos and talk to the driver (a photo of them helps too). Get rego and bus numbers and if possible a witness. From my experience, the Police WILL follow up and prosecute drivers. The more information you give them the better. They will ask if you want the driver to be given a warning or be charged. I use the ‘if they could have killed me they deserve a ticket’ theory.

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