Traffic fines, oh, how we loathe them. You just know something you’re not going to like is inside that official looking envelope, the very moment you lay eyes on it.
Whether it’s for speeding, expired parking, running a red light, straying into a bus lane - or maybe something even worse - your inner self screams out “I don’t deserve this” as you grumpily stump up for the fine.
The case of semi-retired musician Alan MacDonald which screened on Fair Go tonight raised an interesting question – was his $150 fine for a bus lane incursion reasonable in the circumstances?
The authorities and some lawyers argue ‘the rules are the rules’ and motorists should be fined when they break them.
But Macdonald claims discretion should be a consideration and that leniency be shown to drivers like himself, who have a clean record, limited finances and made a genuine mistake.
You be the judge.
This is what happened: MacDonald was fined $150 last December for mistakenly entering a bus lane on Auckland’s Khyber Pass. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and no bus services were disrupted by Macdonald’s incursion. The fine is standard for a bus lane breach.
The case for leniency:
MacDonald plays in a band and was fined on his way to a gig in an unfamiliar part of the city. The semi-retired musician claims signage relating to bus lane use was unclear and he made an error judging when to turn left.
The $150 fine represented his total earnings for the Sunday gig – money he relies on to pay rent, internet and other living costs.
He says he has lost a lot of work due to Covid-19 in the past year, times are tough and showing him a bit of kindness and leniency is in order.
The case for fines:
Infringement fees in Auckland are set by the Ministry of Transport and $150 is the standard fine nationwide. Khyber Pass is a key part of Auckland’s transport network – 94 buses hourly use the road Monday-Friday, 56 buses use the road hourly on weekends.
Auckland Transport says all holders of a NZ Drivers Licence should be familiar with the Road User Rule and anyone wanting to challenge fines can do so through the courts.
MacDonald did not take up the option of challenging the offence in court – where the fine could have been scaled up or down.
Some bus drivers Fair Go spoke to say cars in bus lanes are a daily problem at peak hour, disrupting both bus travellers and rule-abiding motorists when the offenders try to re-enter commuter lanes.
Bus drivers also expressed sympathy for MacDonald because services are reduced on weekends and the roads are generally quieter.
Although Auckland Transport refers offenders challenging fines to the courts this comes at a cost – in both time and money.
A semi-retired pensioner, struggling from the financial impact of Covid-19, is unlikely to head to court to argue such a black-and-white case.
But maybe MacDonald's fine should be more about shades of grey than who is right in the eyes of the law.
Maybe in the ‘era of kindness’ - it should be about the real cost of $150 to the recipient of that annoyingly official envelope.