A Tauranga City Council meeting came to an abrupt stop on Monday after a disgruntled public gallery heckled the commissioners over the Links Avenue trial.
Matthew Nicholson was presenting his 5627-signature strong petition and supported by around 40 people in the public gallery as well as three by-election candidates.
Nicholson’s petition was calling for council to refund people for the fines they had received for using the Links Avenue bus lane.
The eastern end of Links Avenue has been turned into a cul-de-sac by forming two bus lanes, for a four-month trial period and anyone that drives through it receives a $150 fine.
Nicholson started his petition after he received a warning and saw the number of people that had been warned or fined.
He told council the trial wasn’t “fit for purpose”, the notification for the trial was inadequate and the signage and road layout were confusing.
“Fining during a trial is not an effective way to engage your community,” he said.
“Instead 16,000 road users have been labelled as criminals, 8500 who had been charged as such with a fine.
“That may seem very dramatic, but that's how it's perceived by the community.”
In the first five weeks of the trial more than $1.4 million worth of fines were handed out. For the first two weeks 8500 warning letters were issued, after that 9540 infringements were sent out as of May 9.
He said a resident of Ascot Road had been fined five times and denied a waiver three times to exit her own street.
“Low income residents of Links Ave and surrounding roads are now staring down the barrel of fines, totalling more than a thousand dollars, at a time where the cost of living is at a high and affordability is at a low.”
The road layout and signage of the trial have been labelled confusing. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.
The trial was initiated after concerns were raised about the safety of students using Links Avenue. The street is a travel corridor for Omanu School, Mount Maunganui Intermediate and Mount Maunganui College.
Prior to the trial Links Avenue had 7500 vehicle movements each day.
Nicholson said no one disagreed the safety of children in the community was important, but the trial did not “fully address” the safety concerns it just shifted it to the surrounding areas.
“This is not just a Links Avenue issue,” he said
“This is a total area issue, which raises the question as to why Links Avenue in particular is the sole focus of the safety concerns.
“When you close a road used by 7500 cars they need somewhere to go,” he said.
He spoke about a resident of Golf Road who said the road was not safe because of the increased traffic. The resident said three children had ridden into their car on bikes and they were waiting for a serious accident.
Nicholson said there was minimal consultation with those most affected and likened the trial to “cutting off someone’s arm when trying to save their leg”.
He closed by asking if the fines are there to protect children then why was the trial operating outside of those hours.
Tolley said council received the petition and would prepare a report for a later date.
Nicholson’s presentation was met with applause from the public gallery who also jeered and asked questions.
Members of the public heckled the commissioners about the trial. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.
A man in the public gallery called out there was no consultation and no involvement with the public.
Commission chair Anne Tolley said it “was not an opportunity for the community to have a conversation” and called for a recess after continued heckling.
Tolley said people were able to speak in the public forum if they applied to council prior to a meeting.
“It's Tolley's rules only,” yelled one man in the gallery.
“What a farce. Time for you to go Tolley,” he continued.
After the meeting resumed, Tolley restated the council would prepare a report likely in time for the council meeting on June 13.
“Nothing changes in the meantime. We just ask people to follow the law,” she said.
Tolley said council was considering a “citizens’ assembly” for the final two months of the trial.
That would involve a group of residents from the street and suburb, as well as other interested parties, such as the schools, to work on what a solution might look like.
Tolley said they would look to include this in the June 13 council meeting as well.
She said as the trial reaches the halfway point council was just starting to see a behaviour change.
Commission chair Anne Tolley. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.
Tolley thanked everyone who attended the meeting.
“We know that this is a significant issue,” she said.
“The safety of children going to and from school is our top priority and we have to act.
“We do understand it is causing significant disruption to people's lives and we understand the enormity of that.
“I just encourage everyone to follow the rules whilst we see if we can find a sensible solution for everyone.”
The by-election candidates that attended were Sam Uffindell from National, Cameron Luxton of ACT and Sue Grey of the Outdoors and Freedom Party.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ ON Air.