Figures released to The Spinoff show just how much money is made from Auckland’s network of bus and special vehicle lane cameras. Stewart Sowman-Lund has the details.
A bus lane in Auckland’s central business district has amassed over $4.5m in fines since a camera was first switched on in September last year.
The Queen Street goods vehicle lane, open to buses, bikes and selected other vehicles, was first established in July 2022 as part of the ongoing pedestrianisation of the main stretch, with fewer private cars allowed to drive the full length of Queen Street. Between July and September last year, drivers were simply issued a warning for mistakenly being in the special lane. But from September 12, anyone who had been warned once and then drove in the lane again would be pinged $150.
Figures released by Auckland Transport to The Spinoff under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act revealed that just over 30,000 infringements have been issued for this particular stretch of road up until April 30 this year.
Breaking the figures down, the Queen Street lane has been making about $565,000 per month or $128,000 a week – or roughly $18,000 every single day of operation.
For comparison, prime minister Chris Hipkins’ annual salary is $471,049.
It’s not the only high-earning special vehicle lane established in 2022 to appear on the list. One on Lambie Drive in Manukau has issued close to 40,000 infringements at $150 a pop since March 16 last year, when it was first switched on, raking in $5.9m in fines for Auckland Transport.
The data provided to The Spinoff dates back to the start of July 2021 (meaning it includes the five months Auckland spent in a Covid-19 lockdown), and reveals that a single bus lane in the suburb of Newmarket made almost $8m over that period. The 160-metre long Khyber Pass bus lane has been a fairly notorious stretch of road, making regular headlines for the high number of infringements. It’s the biggest earner on the bus lane list, however it’s been in operation for the full data period, having been switched on in early 2021. Concerns about this lane have been raised in the past by commuters, noting its short length and the fact it comes directly before a left turn lane, making it trickier to avoid.
Legally, drivers can enter a bus lane in its last 50 metres. However, as Fair Go noted during a 2019 investigation, there’s no requirement to tell motorists where that 50 metre mark is.
Cumulatively, all 25 special vehicle lanes, including those only established in the past 12 months, made a total of about $40m between July 2021 and April this year.
An Auckland Transport spokesperson said the agency did not have any control over the price of the infringements and directed The Spinoff to transport minister Michael Wood. In a statement, Wood said ministry officials were working on a review of parking regulation and consultation on “small updates and clarifications to some parking rules” was expected in the next few months. “The maximum fines for parking offences are not being included in this tranche of updates,” he said. “[The Ministry of Transport] are expecting to progress some work regarding the various parking offences and penalties later in 2023 or earlier in 2024.”
Wood added: “Special vehicle lanes like bus lanes ensure more people can get around quickly by bus, carpooling, or cycling. These lanes are critical in reducing congestion and transport emissions and improving safety.”
That was the sentiment shared by Auckland Transport’s group manager parking services and compliance, John Strawbridge, who defended the use of special vehicle lanes as part of the agency’s efforts to combat climate change. “To achieve modal shift along arterials and encourage micro mobility as first and last leg travel options will be one way Auckland Transport is able to meet climate change and emission objectives,” he said.
Bus lanes were only effective in these goals, added Strawbridge, when they weren’t “clogged up” by drivers using them when they shouldn’t be. “That’s why our parking compliance team has a strong focus on ensuring that these bus and transit lanes are being used correctly – to help keep our city moving.”
The bus lane fines are particularly steep. Parking in a bus lane, an action that could arguably clog the roads worse than simply driving in one, would result in a $60 fine (though a potential towing comes with extra cost). That’s the same fine for parking in a clearway or on double yellow lines. It’s $40 if you’re caught parking across a driveway, and as little as $12 for overstaying in a timed carpark. At the other end, an overdue registration or warrant of fitness brings with it a whopping $200 fine.
“In an ideal world we’d like to not need to issue any infringements for special vehicle lane offences, but the reality is that without our compliance activities we would see a small minority of Aucklanders exploit the system to the detriment of all other Aucklanders,” Strawbridge added. “Our compliance activities are focused on ensuring our transport system can operate efficiently and that our city’s transport and parking assets are being used fairly and equitably.”
Strawbridge said compliance levels in Auckland were “excellent by the majority of drivers”, providing examples such as Khyber Pass where the rate of cars caught in the bus lane was just 1.26%.
The Spinoff asked for details of what the money generated through infringements was used for, but received no response. However, in 2022, Auckland Transport told RNZ it wasn’t about the revenue. “Our primary consideration is the effectiveness of our transport system – revenue is not our focus,” a spokesperson said at the time.