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

  • Timz

    Thank you so much Mr. Gantt for protecting my civil liberties! Oh, wait a second; you did nothing to protect MY civil liberties .. I’m still being captured on camera as I sit on the bus stuck behind some car that is illegally sitting in the bus lane with no fear of getting caught because apparently it is infringing on their rights to take a photo of their license plate while they are breaking the law.

    From the millions of MYC transit riders who are under surveillance everyday wasting our time and productivity in a congested system, THANKS FOR NOTHING!

  • Christian

    Seriously Gantt why do you even care? This is New York, not Albany or Rochester, let us be.

    Does anyone even know/care where Rochester is anyways?

  • I’m outraged.

    Once again another livable streets initative for New York City has been stymied because of our corrupt and dysfunctional state legislature in Albany. I feel all transit riders here have been collectively slapped in the face.

    New York City has been deprived of home rule on so many fronts, ranging from rent regulation to congestion pricing to bus lane enforcement. It’s time for us to seceed.

  • cabron

    for a city soo full of itself and its imaginative view that it and its inhabitants are the best in the world, why oh why can’t such a city and its inhabitants do anything truly progressive?

    I’m just sayin’…

  • From a Daily News editorial:

    For years, this Rochester Democrat has nuttily maintained that traffic-enforcement cameras represent an invasion of privacy to the public. But recently, Gantt began to suppress his fear of Big Brother after a friend and former aide landed an $80,000 lobbying job for an upstate red-light-camera company.

    Now, Gantt is lead sponsor of a bill tailor-made to promote the technology of his pal’s client – while blocking Bloomberg and elected officials in other jurisdictions from using cameras provided by different vendors.

    This is Albany at its worst.

    So may get the bus cameras after all, but the technology would come from the well-connected company Gantt prefers.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “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.”

    Don’t count your chickens. Will placard holders be exempted?

  • Mick

    Once again, apparently we don’t even know how people voted. Be nice if the state constitution required a recorded, public vote on all legislation which gets at least a reasonable number of co-sponsors. This anonymous, non-vote, voting is really hard to swallow. Maybe Bloomberg could pay for a statewide referendum requiring some basic reforms to make the legislative process more transparent and accountable. Not term limits, or anything sneaky, just really simple stuff the average person (and good government groups) think make sense. The Assembly in particular is more like the politburo than an elected legislature in a great American state. Few assemblymembers face primary or general election opponents and most win election through the money and organizing prowess of labor unions with a very narrow scope of interests to protect.

  • This is why the city needs more autonomy from the state. A corrupt assemblyman from Rochester should have absolutely no say in what is or isn’t best for New Yorkers.

    Come to think of it, can someone give some background on why a plan like this needs state approval, since it would naturally be city-managed?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Maybe Bloomberg could pay for a statewide referendum requiring some basic reforms to make the legislative process more transparent and accountable.”

    There is no initiative and referendum at the state level, because state legislators would never allow it. What was the only public-generated referendum in the near two decades since NYC’s 1989 charter allowed it? Term limits.

    There are no elections at the state level either.

  • gecko

    I do not understand how Albany has this power.

  • Veritas

    Things like this make me want to lead a movement to have the city secede from the state. Maybe the livable streets movement can join other groups to form a secession campaign. It would be a great post-mayoral campaign for Bloomberg to join/fund.

  • JK

    The transit unions (TWU/ATU) need to start kicking some butt in Albany. Congestion pricing lost, bus cams lost, the MTA budget is in big trouble and bus and subway service expansions have already been scrapped. Do these unions care about any of this or only their member’s health care benefits?

  • Spud Spudly

    As a daily transit user, a driver who doesn’t abuse bus lanes and is angered by people who do, and a citizen of this state who’s fed up Albany corruption I just add my voice to those disgusted by this whole thing.

    Even disregarding the obvious corruption issue regarding Gantt’s old crony, this is just silly. Why would someone breaking the law have an expectation of privacy? And if that is a concern how did he come to support NYC red light cameras?

    I also don’t understand NYLCV’s quote. If they had the votes then what happened? If Gantt used the legislative process to defeat it then why was there a vote at all?

  • This angers me to no end. There is just no accountability in New York State politics, and the fact that the city’s home-rule endorsements carry no weight with politicians who live six hours away in a vastly different part of the state is disturbing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The transit unions (TWU/ATU) need to start kicking some butt in Albany.”

    Hey, they got a retirement at age 50 (rather than 55) after 20 years of work (rather than 25) passed by a 212 margin at least once that I know of, and perhaps more than once.

    “The MTA budget is in big trouble and bus and subway service expansions have already been scrapped.”

    Hey, they don’t use mass transit themselves, and for the most part don’t even live in the city (the execs certainly don’t), so what do they care? Not needing to use public services — whether transit or NYC public schools, etc. — seems to be the mark of wealth for both groups of increasingly well off self dealers, the corporate and the political. Which is why those services are probably doomed.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Things like this make me want to lead a movement to have the city secede from the state.”

    An upstate friend says we’re free to go, but don’t think we can leave Sheldon Silver et al behind on their territory. So what’s the point if we’re stuck with them either way?

  • Peter

    Come to think of it, can someone give some background on why a plan like this needs state approval, since it would naturally be city-managed?

    In October 1975, New York City went bankrupt. The city first went to the Federal government for help but was refused (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”)
    We then went hat in hand to Albany where we got loan guarantees that allowed the city government to continue to operate but with a catch, Albany gained veto power over all city monetary decisions.
    Basically we made a deal with the devil to continue to exist.

  • vnm

    So all the anti-pricing people who said that “congestion is a problem, but enforcement is the answer, not pricing” should be up in arms, right?

    Maybe we could persuade Silver or Brodsky to lean on Gantt to push through some non-pricing solutions. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • So now what?

    No Congestion Pricing = Continued Gridlock

    No new revenue sources for mass transit = Fare Hikes and Service Cuts

    No Bus Cameras = Continued Slow Bus Service

    It seems like the State Assembly is really the roadblock to many of the reforms that are necessary to not only build a transportation infrastructure for the 21st Century, but actually return us to the conditions of the perpetually under-funded mass transit of the 1970s and 1980s.

    This situation of Albany controling the city’s ability to innovate and find solutions to everyday problems is simply no longer tolerable. We need to return control of these items
    to the City government, which has shown far more competence and ability to solve problems than Albany has.

  • vnm

    My actual self, my person, is photographed probably 10 times every day on my walk to work. Yet people are complaining about the privacy concerns of license plates attached to cars? That’s two steps removed from actual people. WHEN DID CARS GET MORE RIGHTS THAN PEOPLE???

    Gantt needs to be removed from office, along with Silver and Brodsky.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “We need to return control of these items to the City government, which has shown far more competence and ability to solve problems than Albany has.”

    The state legislature is highly competiting in achieving its objects. Solving problems is not one of its objectives.

    People need to get it through their heads what is going on here. It isn’t competence, it isn’t ideology, it isn’t a difference of opinion. It’s a set of self-interested and interlocking cabals, not a government that we are in any sense a part of.

  • Car Free Nation

    I think it’s time to reexamine the 1975 accord. NYC is large enough and has a professional enough legislature to govern itself in local matters. We’re larger than most states… We really should secede.

  • I’d like to know whether there is single instance not involving traffic cameras in which Gantt has pressed a civil liberties agenda in his role as an Assemblyman. A quick review of his bio and the internet surf reveals no civil liberties interests or affiliations. I do notice that he sponsored legislation to facilitate use of undercover officers in arresting drug dealers, suggesting that civil liberties may have less value to him when fighting crimes he happens to care about is at issue. This self-appointed guradian of my civil liberties is not even trained as a lawyer. What a jerk.

  • Gantt is corrupt, corrupt, corrupt. Here’s an another very recent example of his cronyism:

    Bill moving driver-safety courses to Net draws fire

    “A bill by Rochester Assemblyman David Gantt to move all driver-safety courses to the Internet is drawing fire from groups that run the courses, fearing that the move would increase the cost of the classes and could benefit a lobbyist close to Gantt.

    “…the narrow language in the bill could…favor giving the Web-development contract to an Albany-area company, CMA Consulting Services Inc., whose lobbyist, Robert Scott Gaddy, is a former Gantt aide.

    “The allegations are the second time in recent days that Gantt’s close relationship with Gaddy has come under fire. Just last week, industry officials who want to install red-light cameras at intersections in Upstate New York complained that Gantt’s bill on the issue is so narrowly worded that only CMA could get the work.”

    http://www.theithacajournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080613/NEWS01/806130360/1002/NEWS01

  • How would NYC go about seceding from New York State? What would the process entail?

  • nick

    Why don’t you (streetsblog) post contact information of David Gantt and/or set up a way to send emails to him with about this issue.

    You could also do this when other issues come up that involve elected officials.

    I looked up his info.
    http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=133&sh=con

    Assemblyman
    David F. Gantt
    133rd Assembly District

    DISTRICT OFFICE
    74 University Avenue
    Rochester, NY 14605
    585-454-3670

    ALBANY OFFICE
    LOB 830
    Albany, NY 12248
    518-455-5606

    ganttd@assembly.state.ny.us

  • Peter

    Gaining Home Rule from Albany would be difficult to say the least. Albany uses its power over the cities finances to finance projects upstate. Albany will never voluntarily just give up the goose that laid the golden egg. They need control over the city’s finances so that they can ensure we send more in tax revenue then we see returning to the city.

    It’s important to note that the roles of the city and the state have reversed since 1975. Back then the city was in a spiral of death, jobs were fleeing, people were fleeing. Upstate was still an industrial juggernaut with manufacturing jobs aplenty. Those jobs are gone now. New York State is for the most part in the midst of an economic depression. New York City money, funneled through Albany, is keeping the rest of the state afloat.

    That is why a Rochester politico cares about money being spent down here. Every penny spent here is a penny not spent in his district.

  • Thank you, Mr. Gantt, for protecting my civil liberties! Oh, wait, you voted *against* legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State last year.

    http://nicksnotesblog.blogspot.com/2007/06/new-york-state-assembly-passed-gay.html

  • bicyclebelle

    I don’t imagine he cares what we think, but maybe it’ll make you feel better to tell him:

    Assemblyman David F. Gantt
    ganttd@assembly.state.ny.us

    DISTRICT OFFICE
    585-454-3670

    ALBANY OFFICE
    518-455-5606

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It’s important to note that the roles of the city and the state have reversed since 1975. Back then the city was in a spiral of death, jobs were fleeing, people were fleeing.”

    But even then NYC sent more to the rest of the state than it got back. And the “aid” it received was in the form of loans, while the rest of the state gets cash.

    What has reversed is we had a fairly well run state back in 1975, despite Rockefeller, and a badly run city government. The state is killing us.

  • “It’s a set of self-interested and interlocking cabals, not a government that we are in any sense a part of.”

    That, Larry, is a very, very good point.

  • gecko

    Does City Hall have a larger legal staff than Albany?

  • JK

    The deal is that only the state has the authority to levy fines but can delegate it to cities,towns, counties and public authorities which it does so grudgingly and with many conditions. NYC or the MTA could install a million cameras if they wanted, but couldn’t collect fines or impose penalties for violations those cameras record. This authority is unrelated to the 1975 fiscal crisis. The state has always had extraordinary power over local affairs. It was an act of state government which created Central Park. To this day, the state has to approve if any NYC park land is taken for other purposes. The state has to approve local speed limits and all kinds of things you would think be left to local authorities.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (“It’s a set of self-interested and interlocking cabals, not a government that we are in any sense a part of.” That, Larry, is a very, very good point.)

    It took me 20 years to become sufficiently dis-illusioned (note the root of that word) to see this clearly. To hear the plaintive cries of people seeking “problem solving” from their elected officials is almost painful for me to read at this point.

  • @JK #33: “The state has always had extraordinary power over local affairs.”

    Does this power derive from the NYS Constitution or from a certain set of laws?

  • Felix

    Shouldn’t we be writing Silver, rather than Gantt?

  • Would it be feasible to physically separate bus lanes, with jersey barriers or bollards, to make it physically impossible for other vehicles to enter (except at cross streets)?

  • vnm

    Gaining Home Rule from Albany would be difficult to say the least. Albany uses its power over the cities finances to finance projects upstate. Albany will never voluntarily just give up the goose that laid the golden egg. They need control over the city’s finances so that they can ensure we send more in tax revenue then we see returning to the city.

    In a situation like this, I am grateful that the Speaker of the Assembly, who holds sway over all Assembly Democrats, is from the City and therefore looks out for the City’s interests.

    Oh, wait a minute. The exact opposite is true. The Speaker actually subordinates the City’s interests so that he can please his caucus and maintain power. Reform Albany now!

  • Car Free Nation

    We should write Silver. This should be embarrassing for the Assembly leader.

  • bureaucrat

    urbanis – cities exist by state charter. the state creates cities and gives them their power.

  • City Council: 40-7 Vote in favor

    Assembly: Vague show of hands, but nothing clear or formal…??

    Where is our state democracy?

  • Does anyone even know/care where Rochester is anyways?

    Rochester? Yeah, it’s the upstate town with a perfectly good ten-mile-long subway that has not been used in over fifty years.

  • MrManhattan

    “cities exist by state charter. the state creates cities and gives them their power.”

    Thats what the British thought too!

  • buscam

    The rumor I heard is that Gantt actually counted people who were not present in the committee meeting as voting against, because he was worried that too many of the people who were there were in favor and that it might actually pass. Not sure if that’s true, but it sounds plausible for Albany.

  • Ian D

    So now the ball is back in the City’s court.

    Wall off bus lanes, as they are in other cities. No pussy-footing. When the car-addicted community boards complain, you say, “But walls won’t infringe on your civil liberties that a Rochester Democratic Assemblyman is so worried about.”

    Physically separating bus lanes doesn’t require Albany. Start with my community district – please.

  • Christopher Crowe

    This is just outrageous. Once again, the state proves itself to be unworthy of the city. So what can we do? What kind of civil disobedience can we engage in? What if the city were to simply act as if the state DOES NOT EXIST? State says the city can’t use bus cameras to collect fines – do it anyway. What exactly would be the consequences? If the state succeeds in getting the city to stop, the city should do something else to annoy it. Impound tax money and spend it here. Impose congestion pricing. Marry off every gay couple in the five boroughs. Sure, these things might be illegal, sure they might overstep city authority – that’s exactly the point. Roil the state and make it deal respectfully with the city for a change. I know I’m daydreaming here, but this kind of thing worked in Poland and Kurdistan, why not here?

  • guys,

    what JK said about penalties being levied by the state with the state grudgingly and only occasionally delegating its powers (the DMV is a state agency) is essentially true.

    However, my understanding is that when NYC was consolidated to form a city of 5 boroughs, NYS was worried that such an entity would basically run the state given its size and population in proportion to the rest of the state. So they enacted several measures that limited NYCs self governance more than other cities in the state. Some of these have since been ruled unconstitutional (such as the number of legislators in the assembly from NYC can’t be more than a certain % — was it 40?) anyway, the point is that the inequity in the way Albany treats the city goes back to at least 1898, not just 1975.

    As to how to remedy the situation,

    As regards fixing Albany: someone suggested Bloomberg pushing through legislative reforms by campaign? that might actually work.

    As regards unfair treatment of NYC: I don’t know

  • gecko

    Does the city have a larger police force than Albany?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Once again, those of you who believe this is an example of Albany at its worst, because you only follow non-financial transportation issues, have no idea how bad usually Albany is.

    There was a debate, and something of a fake vote that was not unanimous. By Albany standards, that is a heroic improvement.

    The usual reality is there is no debate, no opinions, and either nothing happens or the vote is 212 to 0, and either way the vast majority of New Yorkers and anyone foolish enough to live here in the future gets screwed.

    By the way the Times article wonders why some of the bill’s sponsors voted no. Unless something passes, it is best to assume that everyone was against it, including its purpored sponsors. That means you Joan Millman. I am not a moron.

  • OK folks, here are the supposed “supporters” of the bill who voted against it in committee. If you live in their district, please be sure to tell them how you feel:

    The Assembly co-sponsors of the bill who voted to hold it, all Democrats, were Michelle Schimel and Harvey Weisenberg of Long Island, Sam Hoyt of Buffalo, Janele Hyer-Spencer and Matthew Titone of Staten Island and George Latimer of Westchester County.

    The Staten Island reps should particularly come in for some heat from their constituents.

    Outrageous to the core.

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