Albany’s Bus Lane Cam Deal Only Covers Five Select Bus Service Routes

design_b.jpgUnder the bus cam deal in the state budget, the city could crack down on drivers in the Nostrand Avenue Select Bus Service lane, shown here, but not regular bus lanes across the city. Image: NYCDOT.

We reported on Friday that bus lane camera enforcement was passed as part of the so-called student MetroCard deal: If the MTA would eat the cost of student fares, Albany would allow it to keep its bus lanes free of traffic. That wasn’t ever a good deal for transit riders, but as is so often the case, it gets worse in the fine print. 

The version passed into the budget bill wasn’t the original legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, which would have authorized cameras for 50 miles of bus lanes, but a more limited authorization that restricts cameras to a few Select Bus Service routes. 

Here’s the offending language:

WITHIN THE CITY OF NEW YORK, SUCH BUS LANE PHOTO DEVICES SHALL ONLY BE OPERATED ON DESIGNATED BUS LANES THAT ARE SELECT BUS SERVICE LANES WITHIN THE BUS RAPID TRANSIT DEMONSTRATION PROGRAM AND ONLY DURING WEEKDAYS FROM 7:00 A.M. TO 7:00 P.M.

The bill later specifies exactly which routes are eligible for cameras: Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Nostrand Avenue, 34th Street, Hylan Boulevard, and a route-to-be-named in Queens "not to exceed ten miles." 

Transit advocates remain positive about the legislation — enforcement is most important along SBS routes and something’s better than the usual nothing — but for now, the benefits of camera enforcement will be limited. They’ll be another SBS feature, not a path toward providing faster speeds for all of New York’s slowest-in-the-country buses. It’s a small, preliminary victory for New York City transit, embedded in a much larger defeat.

  • Albany continues to disappoint me.

  • Charlie

    Why not just put stanchons between the bus lane and other travel lanes, similar to what is done with many of the bike lanes?

  • Put this down in the “better than what we had” column.

    Camera enforcement is a critical component of the SBS plan offered up by DOT/MTA, so will be instrumental in proving the value of bus rapid transit. And when riders and legislators start to recognize that this tool is saving transit riders hundreds of hours of lost time and only the illegal bus-blockers suffer, there won’t be resistance to wider adoption.

  • Boris

    I haven’t seen this answered anywhere yet – who gets to keep the fines? In the case of MTA Bridges & Tunnels, I’ve always assumed that if you are fined the money will go to the MTA. What about bus cams?

    Was the bus cams-for-student MetroCards a good deal? At $50 a ticket, the MTA would have to generate 7890 of them a day to cover the $144 million annual shortfall caused by the student MetroCard agreement. Is that anywhere close to possible?

  • I truly hope this baby step does open the door to bigger sweeping changes, but I do fear saving minutes per trip quickly becomes ‘JUST minutes saved’ and unfortunately its quickly dismissed. When discussing the Brooklyn SBS service, CB15 chair Theresa Scavo argued “the SBS’s first and only test site, along Fordham Road/Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, has only shaved off six minutes from commuters’ trips” (http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2010/04/cb15-wants-your-input-is-faster-bus-service-worth-losing-parking-lanes/). Although her numbers are wrong (it actually saved 12 minutes http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/html/current/pelham.shtml), I think this is the overwhelming mindset of many people. Unless it shoots you from point A to point B at warp speed, many still thinking driving is the faster option, and don’t care about saving ‘six minutes’…. especially someone ELSE’s six minutes.

  • Allan

    I’m glad I don’t live in NYC. Albany’s got you guys by the balls

  • momos

    Does the MTA have a legislative director or lobbyist? Is the MTA chair supposed to be the one who advances MTA interests in the Legislature?

    Whoever has such responsibility should be fired. This is a disgraceful deal.

    Where’s the Straphangers on this???

    It just gets worse and worse with the MTA. SOMEONE needs to advocate for it.

  • The Straphangers dropped the ball a long time ago. They’re not trying to get the Legislature to restore any of the funding it cut, or bring back bridge tolls, instead focusing all their attention on the Feds and “the MTA.”

  • Bolwerk

    The Straphangers have always been a pretty effete organization when it comes to actual politicking. The problem is, they keep demanding more money, rather than finding explanations and ways to prevent transit costs from rising faster than inflation.

    Of course, this means demanding the state legislature mandate reform in the MTA. Or at least allow the city the power to do it.

  • The neglect of Harlem is now going to be enshrined in law. But there’s something more pernicious at work here. By making bus cams an SBS-only feature, Albany is providing makework for planners; now there’s an even bigger reason to think of SBS as lines drawn on a map, just like subway or light rail. Drawing lines on a map is much more exciting than coming up with good service plans and fare collection mechanisms, and then debating the separate questions of which routes need dedicated lanes and which need bus cams.

    Many problems in New York transit planning could be solved by infusing basic knowledge of foreign innovations, such as systemwide POP. This can’t. The bus cam idea as presented to the state legislature was not sold as a foreign invention. Albany is just screwing the city here. Death to good bus service, it says, and on to drawing SBS lines on a map.

  • jsd

    Albany

    I am dissapoint.

  • Andrew

    Ugh. Why? To maintain a bargaining chip?

    And it’s worse. On the Bx12 and M15, the legislation restricts the bus lanes to what was posted on the MTA website as of June 17, 2010. What if DOT decides to implement bus lanes on Pelham Parkway (which doesn’t have them now) or on Water Street (which I don’t think has any in the current SBS plans, but plans sometimes change)?

    Charlie: To answer your question – because buses very often have to pass other buses. (Also because it’s legal for general traffic to use most bus lanes to turn right, and because most bus lanes are part-time.)

  • JK

    Let’s blame the advocates. It must be their fault that NYC finally has bus enforcement cameras. Wait, isn’t that a win? So, it’s not as much as some hoped. It rarely is with Albany. It took NYC from 1996 to 2010 to go from 50 to 150 red light cameras, and still no speed cams. It ain’t easy. The place stinks. But this is a big first step. If DOT and MTA properly document the effect of the bus cams, and the advocates effectively use that info, we will see bus cams on regular bus routes soon enough. I’m a bit puzzled by the Straphangers Campaign bashing. The group has a long and illustrious history of delivering results for riders: end to two fare zones, Metrocard and varied pricing schemes, public subway condition reports etc. That’s all Straphangers Campaign work. So to is SBS/BRT, which Straphangers started working on with Transportation Alternatives around 2000.

  • Bolwerk

    @JK: criticizing them is not bashing them. I realize they do some good things.

  • Kris

    Minor detail: the caption says “Nostrand Avenue” but it is a picture of First Avenue (see here: http://www.uppergreenside.org/2010/01/15/nyc-dot-rolls-out-bus-and-bike-improvements-for-east-side/ )

  • Geck

    I am also aggravated that it is limited to 7 to 7 weekdays. At other times, bus riders just don’t matter I guess.

  • Ian Turner

    JK, remind me again why a single fare zone is good for riders?

  • Anon

    What’s ridiculous is the principle behind limiting the bus camera program (or speed cameras, or red light cameras, etc). It’s basically, “I have a right to break the law when driving, and anything that infringes upon that right is unfair.” Somehow if you are breaking a traffic law it is wrong to catch you. We could put red light and speed cameras at every intersection in the city, but that would mean that you couldn’t run reds or speed ANYWHERE, and that surely wouldn’t be fair.

  • Bolwerk

    @Anon: it’s a legitimate concern that having cameras everywhere is a major privacy violation. I mean, Gawd, do you want to live in a surveillance society? I’m not saying they should be completely excluded, but I would personally prefer to have buses equipped with them.

    Anyway, it makes more sense to just get cars off streets and change the environment where there are still cars to reduce their numbers and slow them down.

  • kaja

    > Somehow if you are breaking a traffic law it is wrong to catch you.

    Apply this logic to every other law, and you may begin to see the problem.

  • zach

    Agreed that 7-7 isn’t enough, and it certainly isn’t enough for the tunnel bus lanes, but as I sit overlooking 34th st @ 5th, watching a USPS truck parked in the 34th bus lane the last 20 minutes, I see that allowing deliveries at night helps encourage those who feel that they must deliver right in front to do so when it’s less disruptive.

  • Kate Slevin

    I have previously invited commentators who bask advocates to join us for a trip to Albany. But no one has taken me up on the offer!

    Collectively, our organizations (TSTC, TA, Straps, EDF, NYLCV, etc) spent hundreds of hours in Albany over the past few months advocating for bus cameras. JK is right — working there is tedious and frustrating. We didn’t win everything we wanted, but we won enough to get the ball rolling. I would argue that without the advocates, we would have no bus cams.

    So blame advocates if you want, or thank us for putting up with Albany so you don’t have to.

    Cap’t Transit, Bolwerk, etc, the offer stands. If you’re looking for a good time, join us!

  • MinNY

    @Bolwerk – we already have security cameras covering virtually all of midtown Manhattan – remember all the sercurity video of the attempted Times Square bombing all over the news – and that’s only what was released to the public. Adding more cameras to the front of busses to enforce existing laws is not exactly going to change that.

    If Albany was really concerned about privacy, there are a lot more cameras to worry about. As it is, they seem more concerned with screwing-over downstate concerns by playing games with the MTA like a cat playing with a dying rodent.

  • Bolwerk

    @MinNY: I know. I’m not defending that. I’m not opposing bus cams either. I’m just saying, it’s a concern. I would certainly prefer other solutions and using cameras as a last resort.

    But I must say, few things annoy me than this habit for obstructing overall good ideas over one narrow concern. The right thing to do is find a way to address the concern. It’s harder sometimes, but it pays off. I’m not sure why public cameras in New York City should be a concern to a legislator in Buffalo, especially given the hordes of private cameras already all over the place that the police already use to investigate everything except traffic violations.

    Seriously. With friends like Sheldon Silver and David Gantt, who needs the Republikans?

  • Ian, there are good arguments to be made for having multiple fare zones. There’s none to be made for making people pay for transfers, which is what New York used to do.

  • Andrew

    JK:

    Is it a win that the state is robbing the MTA and is authorizing limited bus lane enforcement on a few routes as a consolation prize? Much as I think bus lane enforcement is important, I don’t think it’s a win.

    I’m not sure what you think the Straphangers Campaign has done. The end to two-fare zones was pushed through by Pataki; it was great for some transit riders but largely irrelevant to the majority, except that all transit riders have had to suffer the effects of the reduced fare revenue. MetroCard was an MTA project. I don’t need a report to tell me that my train is dirty, but I could certainly use some advocacy to get the MTA enough funding to hire more cleaners. SBS is a joint MTA/DOT project that didn’t get off the ground until Bloomberg hired a DOT commissioner who had any interest in improving transit.

    Much of what Straphangers does appears to be nothing more than self-promotion. Remember the R train funeral last year?

  • ChrisC

    Physical separation of bus lanes is the ONLY way to make them work to their potential.

  • ChrisC

    “Kris”, are you the idiot who lives in Switzerland and is (was?) a moderator on Wired New York? The same guy who was banned from Skyscraperpage years ago?

  • JK

    Getting bus cameras is a win. The options were cameras or no cameras. Albany wasn’t going to restore cuts to the MTA or student passes in return for not passing bus enforcement cameras. They’ve cut support for the MTA for years without granting concessions in return. It’s silly to assert that the advocates or MTA agreed to funding cuts in return for bus cams. The advocates (TA, TriState and Straphangers) organized a long list of cosponsors for the camera legislation, and that was probably the difference. This is surmise, but maybe the mayor’s office helped get bus cams thrown in as a consolation prize, along with the debt limit. No advocacy group is beyond criticism. They all have their deficiencies. But the harshness of the criticism, and distortions on this list reveal a lack of understanding of the limited power the advocates have — maybe they have been built up too much here — and a profound ignorance of history.

  • “It’s silly to assert that the advocates or MTA agreed to funding cuts in return for bus cams.”

    What is the non-silly explanation for why the authority finally agreed to transport students for free without the state restoring student funding?

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