Assembly Transpo Committee Kills Bus Lane Enforcement Bill

gantt.jpegLegislation central to New York City’s implementation of Bus Rapid Transit died in Albany yesterday, when the State Assembly transportation committee, chaired by Rochester Democrat David Gantt (right), defeated a bill authorizing bus-mounted enforcement cameras by a narrow 14-11 vote. Another traffic enforcement bill, which makes it easier to issue tickets for blocking the box, did make it through the committee.

"It’s really outrageous that after a year of pretty unanimous agreement about New York’s congestion problem, that all we’re left with is don’t block the box," said Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives. "It’s pretty sad when that’s the best Albany can do."

Without bus-mounted enforcement cameras, which have proven successful in London, getting transit up to speed on DOT’s five planned BRT routes faces significant hurdles. "It’s going to make it a lot harder to move buses faster through the city,
without camera enforcement of the lanes," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "It’s going to hurt this
experiment with Select Bus Service."

Transit and environmental advocates arrived at the state capitol yesterday optimistic that the bill, introduced by Manhattan Democrat Jonathan Bing, would get through committee. "We had the votes, we had the support, especially from Assemblyman Bing, who
put in a lot of effort," said Josh Nachowitz of the New York League of Conservation Voters. "Unfortunately, the chairman was completely
opposed to it, and used the legislative process to send it to defeat."

Bills authorizing automated enforcement have met resistance from Gantt in the past, but there were signs his stance had changed recently. Last month the assemblyman introduced a bill that would expand the use of red-light cameras in counties outside New York City. However, as several news outlets noted, that bill appeared crafted to benefit a specific vendor that employs one of Gantt’s former aides as a lobbyist. The bus camera bill contains no such language.

Gantt’s office has not returned Streetsblog’s requests for comment. According to advocates, when pressed to explain his opposition to the bill, Gantt cited concerns about privacy and implied that bus-mounted cameras were intended mainly to generate revenue. As the Daily News pointed out this morning, that reasoning appears increasingly flimsy.

City officials and supporters of the bill had worked closely with the New York Civil Liberties Union to address privacy issues. The bill the committee voted on included restrictions on the direction cameras can face, and the length of time images can be stored. Those steps garnered the blessing of the NYCLU.

To cite privacy concerns at this point indicates that a double standard is at work. "There are millions of transit riders in the subway system who are
watched by cameras on a daily basis," said Nachowitz. "Why should drivers get a free pass
while transit riders are under scrutiny every day?"

As for the notion that bus cameras are a "money grab," he added, the revenue they generate would be "diminutive compared to the overall [city] budget."

In addition to Bing, Assemblywoman Joan Millman of Brooklyn voted in
favor of the bill. The full roll call is still unclear, however, due in
part to the way Gantt held the vote. "There was no
debate or discussion," reported Russianoff. "It was a quick show of hands."

Nachowitz expects the measure to come up again in the legislature, citing the close vote as evidence that lawmakers are more aware of the need for automated traffic enforcement.

The message transit riders will take away for the time being, however, is sobering. "Everyone says they care about bus riders, but the proof is in the pudding," said Norvell. "This is a real slap in the face to New York City bus riders, and not the first they’ve taken from Albany this year."

Photo: Democrat and Chronicle

  • JF

    Gantt’s member items can be found at Attorney General Cuomo’s “Project Sunlight” page:

    http://www.sunlightny.com/snl1/faces/app/legislatorsearch.jspx

    Unfortunately it doesn’t allow you to deep-link to a set of results, but the information is there.

  • ddartley

    All these obstructionists who cite civil liberties and privacy (AND their opponents on “our side”) should truly and honestly examine how much things like camera enforcement really do cause civil liberties problems in other countries that use such things.

    I appreciate the civil liberties and privacy fears more than most on “our side.”

    But I’ve been to the UK a whole bunch of times and, although I didn’t research it, I never heard anyone–real or in media–complain about things like enforcement cameras–but more importantly, I never heard of any legal or civil liberties problems resulting from such enforcement. Only time I can remember hearing about anger over their cameras was in a story here on streetsblog. Most people in whose cars I traveled while over there just accept them quite unemotionally as part of the motoring life.

    My experience doesn’t say that there really are no problems, or that the UK’s way is right and we should replicate it. But the secondary social problems posed by driving violations such as blocking buses and speeding are so serious and manifold that our local government should really take a more utilitarian perspective, just friggin once or twice, and seriously consider stepping off their un-thought-out “civil liberties” and “privacy” arguments against camera enforcement. Especially since, as other commenters point out, we’re ALREADY being videotaped–by numerous agents INCLUDING the government–every minute we’re outdoors in Midtown Manhattan! Maybe our local government will still end up not doing anything, but at present, I don’t believe they’re even weighing costs and benefits, and they’re darn well obligated to.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I’ve said, the reason for Spitzer’s downfall, and the political spying scandal, may be the reason state legislators are particularly worried about someone being able to see where they are going. That and the use of EZ-Pass data in divorce trials where the charge is adultery.

    That bus camera could catch someone in a place they would not be expected to be, and the ticket with a picture and location would arrive in the mail at their home perhaps on a day when the legislators were in session in Albany, otherwise screwing the young.

    In a town where everybody’s guilty, the perspective is different than it is for you and me.

  • christine

    Mr. Gantt, in which account do you want us to wire the funds? just tell us… that will save some time

  • New plan for protected bus lanes: bus drivers will keep a few dozen eggs with them at all times and will stop to allow passengers to briefly disembark, lob them at lane blockers, and return to their seats, on an as-needed basis. Do we need Albany’s approval for that? Perhaps it implicates the state’s interest in ensuring egs are adequately cooked prior to being served?

  • Be

    I’m pissed at the Assembly for not approving this. BRT is greatly needed. However, it should be noted that Doomberg is not the saint many are making him out to be on this issue. BRT was supposed to be up and running in the M15 First / Second Ave bus line by the summer of 2008. Doomberg intentionally had this delayed in order to use it as a bargaining chip to get his stupid congestion pricing plan passed. We would have had this already if Doomberg wasn’t so obsessed with privatizing public streets.

  • According to Streetsblog, bus rapid transit (aka select bus service) is making its debut in the Bronx:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/03/25/nyc-to-launch-bus-rapid-transit-in-the-bronx/

    The MTA website gives your summer 2008 date for the Bronx but not for the M15 or other routes:

    http://www.mta.info/mta/planning/sbs/projectupdate.htm

  • Be

    Mark, the MTA first announced this and had the summer 2008 date given for the M15 in Manhattan and a line in Brooklyn back in 2006. THis remained on their website until last spring when Doomberg started to seriously push for his pricing plan. I think I may still have a pdf somewhere on my harddrive with the original dates. There was never any announcement of a push back of the dates due to lack of funding or any of the other typical excuses. THey simply took down the documents and the entire webpage for BRT on the MTA site for about a month and then put it back up with different information that matched the pilot program in the Bronx. Pretty sneaky.

  • Be

    I’m sure you can even check the streetsblog archives for some mention of this as I recall reading about it in several of the daily papers at the time, as well.

  • Does the city have the power to make the fine for blocking a bus lane, say, $2,000? Give out a few of those tickets and word would spread pretty fast, I bet. (And honestly $2,000 is a lowball estimate for what the aggregate delay on the hundreds of people potentially held up by one jackass parked in a bus lane.)

  • Be, you’re right. Bloomberg originally promised BRT for First and Second Avenues back in 2001. The Streetsblog coverage quoted him directly, and also mentioned that the DOT was dragging its heels on BRT in the Bronx:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/04/19/slow-moving-bus-rapid-transit/

    What appears to have happened is that the pilot project got moved from Manhattan to the Bronx. As an occasional Manhattan bus rider, I sympathize. If the mayor promised BRT to my neighborhood and then yanked it, I’d be peeved. Thanks for the correction.

  • Be

    This sort of deception and bate and switch is part of the reason I have absolutely no faith in the greenwashing PR BS “MillionTrees NYC” plan put forth by Doomberg as part of his PLANYC2030 plan. Never believe a proprosal by a politician for something that will happen once he is out of office. Doomberg made several promises for BRT and we’ve got nada so far. Why should we expect any of the ideas from PLANYC2030 to ever happen? It’s easy for a politician to make a great proposal if he’s never going to be held accountable for it’s implementation. That’s typical Doomberg in his mayorality. He’s all talk but he doesn’t get anything really done. Sure, we’ve got 311, but that’s an idea he stole from another city. What has this guy done besides destroy the wonderful celebration of bike riding that was Critical Mass? Doomberg held the BRT hostage as leverage to try to force through approval of his pricing plan. And now we all suffer because of it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There you go. Just like Congestion Pricing, it’s Bloomberg’s fault. Right.

    State legislators make the decisions, and local officials, who actually provide services, take the blame.

    That like hustle preceded Bloomberg, and will continue after he leaves.

  • Be

    Let me clarify. I blame Doomberg for his congestion pricing plan because it was a bad plan, and I was against it. I think Albany got it right with congestion pricing.

  • Be, both congestion pricing and bus cameras were defeated by a single individual (first Silver, then Gantt) who prevented them from coming to a vote. I realize you have different positions on each of those issues, and I’m not knocking you for that, but doesn’t it bug you that neither one got a fair vote?

  • Red

    I can tell you that the reason the MTA’s BRT program was delayed was because some of those BRT routes were flawed (i.e. they took lots of parking which got them in trouble with the community, but didn’t save a lot of time anyway). The current proposed routes are better chosen, better designed, and have a better chance of escaping community board opposition.

  • To add insult to injury, Democratic legislators in Yonkers, Buffalo, and Nassau and Suffolk Countys tried to get a red-light camera bill passed, but Gantt wouldn’t allow that bill to go through either, despite the presence of both county’s legislators in Albany to plead for it. Don’t local legislators’ wishes trump those of a Rochester assemblymember? I guess not.

    http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080625/NEWS05/806250361/1018/NEWS02

  • Be

    Mark, thanks for not knocking me. And yes, I think it’s terrible that Silver did not bring it to the floor for a vote.

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