Albany Running Out of Time to Give NYC Bus Riders Faster Service

Urgency is mounting in Albany to pass a bus lane enforcement bill, as the end of the legislative session draws near and the launch date of rapid bus service on the East Side of Manhattan approaches.

bus_lane.jpgCamera enforcement will help bus lanes work as advertised for hundreds of thousands of riders. Image: NYCDOT

To give bus riders faster trips, the MTA and NYCDOT are counting on enforcement cameras to keep dedicated lanes clear of car traffic. Before they can implement a bus cam program, Albany needs to give the go-ahead. Streetsblog has been following the ups and downs of that legislation for more than two years now. The last time we checked in, the Assembly had rejected a budget amendment to establish a bus cam program, citing cost concerns that didn’t add up.

With only a few weeks left before the legislature goes home for the year, time is running out to get something done. There are two options: convince Sheldon Silver and the Assembly leadership to adopt bus cameras in their budget, or pursue a separate bill that will have to go through Rochester Democrat David Gantt, the chair of the Assembly transportation committee who shot down bus cams in 2008.

Bus cam supporters have recently made some progress on both fronts. The State Senate has agreed in principle to include the governor’s version of the bus camera program in their budget, according to a source in the capitol following the negotiations. (At first, the Senate had proposed a watered-down version of the program.) That still leaves the Assembly, where leadership has yet to indicate any change in their position.

If bus cams don’t make it into the Assembly budget, there appears to be extensive support for a standalone bill among rank-and-file Assembly members.

Bus cam legislation sponsored by Manhattan rep Jonathan Bing now has 47 sponsors. Several veteran members of New York City’s delegation, including Manhattan Democratic Party chair Keith Wright, have signed on. A companion bill in the State Senate was recently introduced by Brooklyn rep and transportation committee chair Martin Malavé Dilan. While Dilan’s committee has scheduled a vote on the bill for June 8, Gantt’s committee in the Assembly has not scheduled a vote.

To complicate matters even more, Albany also needs to receive a "home rule message" from the New York City Council to move forward with a bus camera bill. The council will have to hold a vote quickly. The last transportation committee meeting in the Assembly takes place in less than two weeks, on June 7. There may not be another chance to advance the bus camera bill this year.

We have phone calls in with several city and state legislators to see where they stand on the bus cam bill. With the state Democratic convention in full swing today, it’s been difficult to get people on the line, so stay tuned for updates later this week.

In the meantime, if you want to show your support for better bus service in New York City, you can join this Facebook group. (And call your representatives, of course.)