Queen St 'essential vehicle' zone: Auckland Transport collects $5.6 million in fines in 16 months

Auckland Transport has collected more than $5 million in fines after banning private vehicles from a small section of Queen St 16 months ago.  

In July 2022, the roughly 150-metre section of Queen St from the Civic Theatre to the Town Hall was declared an 'Essential Vehicle Area', meaning private vehicles and taxis were banned, but buses, bikes, plus goods and emergency vehicles were allowed. 

Auckland Transport, at the time, said in a promotional video that "taking cars out of this area of Queen St will make it much safer for pedestrians in Auckland's arts precinct".   

But it has generated a lot of money for Auckland Transport, too. Documents obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act show $5.6 million was collected in fines between July 2022 and November 2023.   

In total, 80,890 fines have been issued, but only 37,912 have been paid. That means Auckland Transport is yet to receive another $6.4 million.   

When asked if it's fair during a cost-of-living crisis, Auckland Transport's programme director for city centre transport integration, Graeme Gunthorp, said the level of fines is set by the Ministry of Transport.  

"That is the only mechanism which Auckland Transport has in order to make our buses work efficiently and reliably. We don't have the privilege of changing those up and down, similar to parking fines," he told Newshub.   

"As a result, we have seen some people be issued fines, but remember we did issue eight months' worth of warnings to first-time offenders.

"We don't see this as a revenue stream. We see this as an important part of the transport network that we need to make sure buses and goods vehicles can get through efficiently."  

There was a period, between 5 July 2022 and 19 March last year, when warnings were issued. If the same vehicle travelled through the prohibited lane again, it received a fine. During that time, 102,966 warnings were processed. 

There are signs warning private vehicles not to enter the area. A sign attached to a traffic light warns, "NO ENTRY", next to another sign that reads, "EXCEPT BUS LANE AND GOODS VEHICLE".

The stretch of road is painted green, like a bus lane, as another warning to private vehicles. 

Queen St 'essential vehicle' zone: Auckland Transport collects $5.6 million in fines in 16 months
Photo credit: Newshub
Queen St 'essential vehicle' zone: Auckland Transport collects $5.6 million in fines in 16 months
Photo credit: Newshub

But many locals do not think it's clear enough, especially a sign that reads, "GV LANE".   

"What does GV mean?" asked Rhonda, one of the more than 37,000 who have paid a $150 infringement.   

It stands for, "Goods Vehicles Lane", but Rhonda said she "never would've guessed that".   

She said she received a fine after driving into central Auckland to attend an event at the Civic Theatre on Queen St.   

"We came along Victoria St and then turned left onto Queen St... and before I knew it, I'm on a green stretch, but I had no way of getting out of it. I had to keep going to the end of the road and then turn off," she told Newshub.   

"And then, I got the $150 ticket in the mail."  

Rhonda said she wouldn't have driven on the banned stretch of road if she had seen the warning signs.  

"I didn't see anything warning me that this was coming up. I try and be law-abiding... but you've got to give people a fair chance to make an alternative route."  

Documents show Auckland Transport spent $10,547 on a digital marketing campaign to warn the public about the ban on private vehicles. It also advertised the changes on bus stops and coffee cups.   

Queen St 'essential vehicle' zone: Auckland Transport collects $5.6 million in fines in 16 months
Photo credit: Supplied

But Viv Beck, from the local business association Heart of the City, said the ban is confusing and unfair and she's asked Auckland Transport to review it.   

"It's not like we've got accessibility for everybody by public transport, for example, so we're just looking for a bit of common sense really," she told Newshub.   

"It is a night-time precinct, so we certainly think we should have taxis at night, rather than full-time bus access."  

Gunthorp said Auckland Transport is open to that suggestion.   

"What we have noticed, especially in this area of the Civic Theatre and Spark Arena, is that taxis and ride-hail tend to flood the area, particularly at the end of events," he said.   

"As this is such a crucial area for our bus network, we can't let that happen. What we are open to doing... is exploring: outside our core bus operating hours, when can taxis and ride-hailing use the area?"  

He also admitted the warning signs could be clearer.   

"We are always looking to improve. We're actually looking at overhead booms at the moment so that people understand even better that they are entering a restricted area."  

But the ban on private vehicles is not going anywhere. 

"The Queen St Essential Vehicles Area is permanent."