Better Bus Service in Jeopardy Thanks to Shelly Silver and Assembly Dems

Chances to improve service on New York City’s dedicated bus lanes appeared to narrow yesterday, when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his Democratic conference rejected bus lane enforcement cameras in the chamber’s draft budget. Camera enforcement is one of the linchpins in the city’s strategy to put the "rapid" in Bus Rapid Transit. Without it, bus riders will remain stymied by traffic, even on Select Bus Service routes.

sheldon_lg.jpgShelly Silver let better bus service fall by the wayside in the Assembly’s budget proposal.

New York has the nation’s slowest bus service and its biggest bus fleet, serving more than two and a half million daily riders. The city’s police force doesn’t have the manpower to keep bus lanes clear, and it’s only getting smaller. Camera enforcement, which has made service faster and more reliable in London by cutting violations 60 percent, has proven capable of solving some of the problems that plague New York’s bus system.

"Right now, bus lanes are routinely violated by many vehicles, resulting in chronic delays for hundreds of thousands of bus riders," said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign. "Using enforcement cameras in city bus lanes could turn that around, making bus service more reliable and helping to reduce congestion."

Two years ago, bus cams died in the Assembly transportation committee, chaired by Rochester representative David Gantt. This time around, they were stripped out in the Assembly’s opaque budget process. One advocate in Albany told Streetsblog that rank-and-file Assembly members
were unaware that the bus cam provisions had been slashed from the
budget resolution as late as yesterday afternoon, hours before the resolution was unveiled and voted on.

Gantt has no veto power in the Assembly budget process, which the Speaker himself exerts enormous influence over. The budget resolution only had to clear a vote in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Upper Manhattan representative Denny Farrell, before the Speaker brought it to the full floor last night. "It’s our view that
Silver maintains pretty tight control over the budget process," said Laura Seago, a research associate at the Brennan Center for Justice and co-author of the 2009 report on Albany dysfunction, "Still Broken" [PDF].

Neither Silver nor Gantt’s office has returned Streetsblog’s requests for comment at this time.

Restoring the bus cam program in the final budget now hinges on
negotiations between the Assembly, the State Senate, and the governor’s
office. Those talks, which happen behind closed doors, are expected to heat up sometime after the official budget deadline of April 1.

In the Senate, which included a watered down version of the governor’s original bus camera proposal in its budget resolution, several representatives say they’ll be pushing to restore the full bus cam language. Senator Eric Adams, whose Brooklyn district would be served by Select Bus Service slated for the Nostrand Avenue corridor, said he believes camera enforcement is a critical tool to keep buses moving. He expressed surprise that the Assembly had stripped bus cams from its budget and said he’d ask Senate negotiators to make them a high priority. "The resolution is just phase one," he said. "Now we’re going to start drilling down on the issues that matter to us."

Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Liz Krueger will also be advocating for camera enforcement on Select Bus Service routes. "The people who live in the neighborhoods that the senator represents
are going to benefit from SBS," said Montgomery’s staff counsel, Juan Martinez. "If SBS can’t operate without camera
enforcement, then she’s for camera enforcement."

In a letter to Senate transportation committee chair Martin Malave Dilan, Krueger urged the adoption of a robust bus cam program, which she called "altogether imperative for this system to succeed."

On the Assembly side, Manhattan rep Jonathan Bing, who sponsored the bus cam legislation that Gantt shot down two years ago, said he’s organizing a contingent of legislators to restore bus cameras. He urged Streetsblog readers "to contact their legislators to encourage the leadership to include this in the final budget.”

  • NattyB

    What is the rationale or pretext for the legislators who keep stripping the Bus Cam enforcement from the Bill?

    I once heard “civil liberties” which has to be a joke given all the other $hit we’re subject to in NYC. There’s a wall of photos from FiDi through midtown.

    So, I’ve read quite a few articles, and I’ve yet to see anything remotely explaining the why? From a political (horse-trading) or actual policy reasons against installing the Cams?

    B/c this is frickin ridiculous. It’s the worst being on a bus that has to lump along and change lanes b/c some a$$hole (frequently a gov’t vehicle) is blocking the bus lane.

  • Anon

    Is it just the knee-jerk driver attitude that “if I don’t see a cop, then I should be allowed to violate any traffic law I want?” Like cameras somehow give law enforcement an unfair advantage?

    In the same vein, we could have speed cameras every mile on the highway (or every block on the street) giving a ticket every time a driver went by going over the limit. You could incur thousands of dollars in fines in one trip if you speed the whole way. But of course we don’t do that, because drivers like the current system where you can do what you want unless a cop personally catches you.

  • NattyB, you’ll probably continue to hear “civil liberties” or “privacy” as the issue goes on, but as you say, it’s nonsense. I went last night to the MTA/DOT open house on 1st and 2nd Ave SBS and an MTA guy said “it’s not about *your* privacy, it’s about *their* privacy–they don’t want pictures of them going to their girlfriend’s house.” Funny, and maybe just a joke, but considering the quality of the reps and Senators NYC sends to Albany, I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually meant it!

    Nevertheless, everyone I spoke to from both MTA and DOT seemed to truly believe in the project and its chance of success, and that was heartening.

  • J

    I just called my assemblyman, Herman Farrell. A staffer called me back and explained that bus cameras weren’t in the budget because there wasn’t enough money for them. I am still confused, and perhaps some of you can help out. Does revenue from bus camera tickets revert back to the state, or does it go to the local municipality? If it goes back to the state, then this would be a revenue generator, making this a no-brainer for cash-strapped Albany. If not, then just a bill allowing bus cameras would be sufficient. There is no need for the state to pay for them if they don’t get any money back, but they ought to allow them.

  • Farrell’s staffer is mistaken: Bus Cameras are budget neutral and actually net a slight profit for NYC.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “They don’t want pictures of them going to their girlfriend’s house.” Funny, and maybe just a joke.”

    Not a joke at all. EZ Pass records are widely mined by divorce lawyers, and this has been raised repeatedly as an issue.

    Politicians are a particular kind, and not just in NY according to recent events one couldn’t help stumbling upon in the newspaper. And they are all lawyers.

  • Thank you, voters of the 64th Assembly District, for continuing to send Shelly Silver back again and again to Albany. I hope your “member items” are worth it.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    To me this is an MTA budget issue. This and several other legislative initiatives can and do have a big effect on the MTA bottom line.

  • Geck

    Here is Jim Brennan’s response to my email:

    Thanks for your email. There are a variety of concerns with the
    proposal you write about. The Legislature has tended to consider many
    New York City specific traffic control measures outside of the budget
    process. Last year, for instance, we authorized an increase in red
    light cameras but the matter was considered separately. Usually we
    focus on New York City specific measures toward the end of the session
    but prior to the beginning of the New York City fiscal year which begins
    on July 1.

    One concern is that the proposal would cost the MTA $4 million for
    installing the cameras but all the revenue would go to the City of New
    York. The MTA does not benefit from the proposal. Another is that the
    New York City Department of Transportation is irrationally expanding the
    number of bus lanes in the City and creating excessive restrictions on
    vehicles. Motorists would be overly penalized under such circumstances
    from the use of these cameras.

    I share you interest in the use of these devices to enable buses to move
    more rapidly but these concerns need to be addressed. Thanks for writing.

    Yours truly,
    Jim Brennan
    Member of Assembly

    I don’t know where to begin.

  • Geck, thanks for sharing your letter. I think “irrationally expanding the number of bus lanes” is the place to start.

    Has reading Streetsblog twisted my head around?

    Is there some reason that Assemblymember Brennan thinks automobilist New Yorkers should be able to cut in front of transit users?

  • “Another is that the
    New York City Department of Transportation is irrationally expanding the
    number of bus lanes in the City and creating excessive restrictions on
    vehicles. Motorists would be overly penalized under such circumstances
    from the use of these cameras. ”

    WHAT?

    Oy.

  • sharon

    Why Do some people have so many problems that drive cars. We are not the enemy of bus riders, that would be the labor unions and the assemblyman when block bus lane cams. they should go one step further and install cams on the front of buses and also police cars who block bus stops. ALL the money should go to the mta. Let disrespectful drivers not all drivers pay for mass transit instead of punishing the middle and working class

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