Unless Albany Acts, NYC Bus Lanes Are About to Get Clogged With Cars

Get ready for more Beemers blocking bus lanes unless Albany renews the automated enforcement program for NYC. Video still of 34th Street before bus lane cams: Streetfilms/Robin Urban Smith

Five years ago, the state passed a bill allowing the city to install cameras that catch drivers who illegally use bus lanes on six Select Bus Service routes. Unless Albany acts soon, that legislation will expire and the cameras will have to be turned off at the end of this summer.

There’s a fix waiting to be voted on in the state legislature — and it would expand the cameras to more bus lanes. A bill sponsored in the Assembly by Nily Rozic and in the State Senate by Martin Golden would extend the bus lane cameras for another five years. Otherwise, the 2010 law would expire on September 20.

An earlier version of Rozic’s bill, which was submitted at the request of the de Blasio administration, asked for the power to install bus lane cameras on up to 20 additional routes of the city’s choosing [PDF]. That’s since been negotiated down. The bill now asks for up to 10 additional bus routes of the city’s choice, on top of the six specific SBS routes that qualified for cameras under the 2010 law.

The bill would also eliminate the weekend prohibition on bus lane cams, but continue to allow them only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The fine would remain at $115.

Rozic has also submitted a bill that offers a straight five-year extension of the existing, limited camera program. “It was just put in as a safety mechanism,” said Meagan Molina, Rozic’s legislative and communications director.

The city has maxed out its bus lane camera allowance in the current state law, installing them on routes along Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Nostrand and Rogers Avenues, 34th Street, Hylan Boulevard, and 125th Street. Other bus-only lanes, including on Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Fulton Street, Utica Avenue, Broadway, 181st Street, and Webster Avenue, operate without camera enforcement.

Bus lane cameras have been a key component in speeding bus trips. On 125th Street, for example, camera-enforced bus lanes have sped local service by up to 20 percent. The M60, which also received off-board fare collection as part of its SBS upgrade, is now up to 34 percent faster on 125th Street.

Violations at each camera location have dropped over time, meaning that the bus lanes are consistently more clear and drivers are incurring fewer fines. For example, tickets on First Avenue at E. 86th Street between August and March fell by 84 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to an analysis by AAA New York of city data.

City Hall, the MTA [PDF], and transit advocates have lined up in support of the expansion bill, which might still face a tough battle in the final days of the legislative session this week.

“We do hope it will pass. Since the cameras have been in effect, they have made a significant difference in bus speeds,” Vanterpool said. “We’re seeing a decrease in the violations, which is great, and we know that bus lane cameras are one of the key reasons why bus trips have sped up.”

“Bus lanes are helping literally hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers spend less time commuting and more time at home with their families,” said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. “They are particularly important for low-income workers who often have to commute the farthest. We need to expand enforcement authority so we can improve bus service for more people in the coming years.”

Rozic’s office is hopeful. “We are optimistic. Given the time constraints, we feel good,” Molina said of the expansion bill. “We’re facing a sunset, so we have to do something.”

This post has been corrected to properly identify the source of violation data on First Avenue at 86th Street. It is an an analysis of NYC Department of Finance data by AAA New York, not DOT data as previously reported.