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Onewa Rd - more people moving faster in fewer cars


Onewa Rd - more people moving faster in fewer cars

North Shore City Council enforcement of the Onewa Rd transit lane rules has significantly cut delays for morning peak travellers and increased bus use and ridesharing.

The transit lane allows quick morning peak access to the motorway for buses, motorcycles, cyclists (who must leave before the motorway), and small vehicles with three or more people on board (carpooling).

While bus lanes exist elsewhere, the transit lane is the only lane in greater Auckland that is also prioritised for carpooling. A general traffic lane, open to all vehicles, runs parallel to the transit lane. After 9 am the transit lane becomes a general lane as well.

The transit lane was set up in 1982, but was not regularly enforced until August 2002, when the council received government permission to police transit lane violations. Before 2002, the council could only give out parking tickets.

North Shore City Council sought these additional powers because increasing traffic volumes meant the lane was not functioning as it should. Up to 900 non-complying vehicles a day were using the transit lane and travel times on both lanes were about half an hour.

An independent survey commissioned by the council and produced last month has shown dramatic increases in transit lane compliance since last year, and equally dramatic transport outcomes. Importantly, the enforcement of the transit lane has not led to any further delays on the general lane.

Key findings of the independent survey are:

* The transit lane now carries two-thirds of all people bound for the motorway in the morning peak, or twice as many people as the general lane (68 per cent of people in 27 per cent of the vehicles). Of the two-thirds of people travelling in to the Auckland CBD in the transit lane, three-fifths are in buses and two-fifths are carpooling.

* The percentage of people carpooling has increased from 9 per cent in 1982 to 26.5 per cent in 2003. Some of this increase occurred before enforcement, but enforcement has helped, and perhaps more importantly, is rewarding carpoolers for their efforts.

* Maximum travel times have been cut by 80 per cent on the transit lane. This equates to a time saving of half an hour. Traffic has also freed up slightly on the general lane because so many people are now using the transit lane. Enforcement of the transit lane is a win-win outcome that has not inconvenienced users of the general lane in any way.

* The bus service in from Birkenhead is now keeping to its announced timetables. Widespread complaints about the unreliable nature of Auckland's bus services no longer apply to buses using Onewa Road.

* Average occupancy of all vehicles has risen from 1.9 to 2.69, representing an efficiency improvement of 42 per cent.

North Shore City mayor, George Wood, says the increased enforcement on the transit lane has been a resounding success, rating it "the country's first and most successful joint bus and multi passenger transit lane."

Mr Wood stressed that the figures came from an independent, detailed survey and were conclusive proof that commuters' habits could be changed if they were given a convenient, practical alternative.

"We've been working with bus operators and the Auckland Regional Council to get better buses and faster services for commuters travelling across the city and into the Auckland CBD. Now we need more bus and carpooling lanes over the bridge, into the city and across the region. Then we will begin to see some really significant improvements in bus travel times, more people over the bridge in fewer vehicles and almost certainly, fewer private cars on our roads," he says.

On a typical weekday morning, Onewa Rd in Northcote carries approximately 28 per cent of the North Shore City traffic heading into Auckland City over the harbour bridge on just two lanes - which merges to just one before going on to the motorway and south.

In September 1982 the transit lane was introduced eastbound only (down the road) to try and improve the travel times for buses and cars carrying three or more people, and to encourage commuters to change from cars to buses.

Since 1982, traffic volumes on the road and around the region have risen dramatically. By 2002 the transit lane had effectively stopped working due to widespread non-compliance. As many as 900 non-complying vehicles used the lane between 6.30am and 8.30am. Travel time for vehicles in the transit lane in the peak hour 7.15 to 8.15am was more than 30 minutes. The travel time for vehicles in the general lane (all other vehicles) was as much as 40 minutes.

North Shore City's works and environment committee chairperson Joel Cayford, says the situation was becoming intolerable in terms of driver frustration, delays, costs and pollution.

"Following special ministerial approval, we hired and specially trained staff to enforce the lane rules, and policing started in August 2002. There was an almost immediate improvement in compliance, as transit officers were now visible on the road with video cameras to record violations, and the issuing of a $150 fine for illegal use of the Transit lane," he says.

By March this year with enforcement, as few as 20 non-complying vehicles used the lane between 6.30am and 8.30am. At times the number of non-complying vehicles has been as low as one per day. Travel times in the general lane are now (peak hour) between seven and 25 minutes, and in the transit lane an average seven minutes.

Joel Cayford says the report shows that the average number of cars properly using the transit lane has more than doubled since May 2002 from around 150 per day to 314 this year, with as many as 370 on some days. Buses and motorcycles add another 60 to 80 a day.

Travel times for buses travelling the length of the road in the morning peak has dropped from 30 to seven minutes, and bus patronage has risen 25 per cent.

"It's most interesting that travel times for vehicles in the general lane has dropped from 40 minutes to 18 minutes on average, and the overall number of commuters travelling down the road has risen from 2747 to 3888, travelling in fewer vehicles.

"This number is roughly equivalent to taking 600 cars off the road each day, with resulting benefits in cutting costs, pollution, delays, travel time and stress." says Councillor Cayford.

"The purpose of stepping up enforcement of the transit lane was to increase the people-carrying capacity of the harbour bridge, and to encourage commuters to make a change in their mindset and in their choice of transport to get to work. This has been achieved," he says.

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