Hike in NYPD Bus Lane Enforcement Barely Makes a Dent for Riders

Through September, the NYPD issued three times the number of moving violations than 2017 — but bus speeds remain the same.

A blocked bus lane on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. (Full disclosure: this is file art.) Photo: Ben Fried
A blocked bus lane on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. (Full disclosure: this is file art.) Photo: Ben Fried

Give NYPD credit for the effort.

The number of bus lane tickets issued by the NYPD is up 16 percent this year compared to the same period last year [PDF – Page 55] — but all that hard work by the men and women in blue has not produced any noticeable improvement in bus speeds.

The NYPD’s growing attention to clearing the path for the city’s 2.5 million bus riders, who endure the slowest service in the nation, is a drop in the bucket compared to the magnitude of the problem, according to Transit Center’s Jon Orcutt, the former deputy commissioner for policy at the city Department of Transportation under Mayor Bloomberg.

“The number of summonses last year was minuscule,” Orcutt said. “Your chances for getting a ticket for being in a bus stop or driving in a bus lane are still pretty slim.”

Through September of this year, NYPD officers issued around 240,000 tickets to motorists driving or parked in bus lanes and bus stops, according to data shared at Monday’s MTA transit committee meeting. The biggest percent increase was in moving violations, which shot up from 1,645 from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2017 to 6,442 during the same period in 2018 [PDF].

Yet it produced only a marginal effect on bus service. Average citywide bus speeds are up .1 mile per hour, or 1.3 percent, to 8 mph from 7.9. Wait times and overall trip times improved by equally tiny amounts.

Citywide bus speeds are essentially flat. Image: MTA
Citywide bus speeds are essentially flat. Image: MTA

Overall bus ridership is down 3.5 percent, according to board materials. That’s better than last year’s 6 percent decrease, but a decrease nonetheless.

TransitCenter and the Bus Turnaround Coalition have spent the better part of this year pushing Mayor de Blasio to take the challenge of fixing the city’s buses more seriously. While they’ve applauded him for doing and saying all the right things, a recent report from the coalition cited the continued decline of the bus system as evidence that both NYPD and DOT have more work to do.

“It’s like everything with the city and buses,” Orcutt said. “Nothing is scaled to the actual problem.”

Ultimately, NYPD officers can’t be everywhere at every moment. To truly enforce bus lanes, the city needs authorization from Albany to install more bus lane cameras. State law currently limits camera enforcement to just 16 bus routes.

Camera enforcement is exponentially more effective than actual police officers, which is perhaps one reason NYPD had issued fewer and fewer bus lane tickets in recent years. In 2017, cameras flagged motorists for driving in bus lanes a whopping 133,000 times, according to reporting by NY1.

“We’re happy to see that the NYPD is taking bus lane enforcement more seriously … but it’s also upsetting to see [poor] bus speeds,” said Riders Alliance senior organizer Stephanie Burgos-Veras. “This just shows the need for the state to get involved to make sure we can more bus lane cameras, on a buses, because that will really have an impact citywide.”

Legislation in that vein failed to make it out of committee in Albany this year, but New York City Transit President Andy Byford has committed to increasing the number of bus lane cameras as part of his Bus Action Plan.

“We’re hoping that this time around there will be some additional legislation that will allow increased camera enforcement to improve bus lane availability,” MTA General Counsel James Henly told board members on Monday.

  • Alexis Leonardo Solórzano

    They should install cameras on the buses themselves.
    It might be cheaper and possibly more effective.
    Buses would be able to collect more bus lane/stop violations than NYPD I would think.

  • The bus drivers play a big part in overall bus speeds. They don’t ever seem to care about being expeditious: don’t ever care about people exiting from the front, and generally seem content to let other cars and jaywalkers have the right of way. In other words it is very plain to see that MTA does not, in any way shape or form, incentivize expeditious performance by bus drivers. If I’m being an asshole I would say that it sometimes appears that they do the opposite, that is, incentivize slow driving.

  • This is wrong. Bus drivers cannot control the traffic in which they find themeselves. The onus is on the DOT to create prioritised busways and on the police department to enforce these measures.

    If those agencies do not fulfill their responsibilities, there is nothing that a bus driver can do. To criticise a bus driver for driving politely in hostile conditions is absurd. If a driver behaved aggressively, as you seem to want, that would not be desireable.

  • bolwerk

    I’m not saying you’re completely wrong, but they’re required to yield to pedestrians including jaywalkers.

    Most of that stuff is simply beyond their control. They’re going to be outmaneuvered by smaller vehicles.

  • bolwerk

    If current fines aren’t producing results, raising them might help. A low-occupancy car has no excuse for prioritizing itself over the needs of perhaps over a hundred bus riders, and ultimately this kind of behavior makes all traffic worse.

  • placard corruption

    “Ultimately, NYPD officers can’t be everywhere at every moment.”

    But their cars can be in the bus stop for hours without catching a summons.

  • Joe R.

    I think this just makes the case for automated enforcement of all types. The chances of a person getting ticketed for blocking a bus stop/bike lane, running a red light, not yielding, double-parking, etc. are low enough such that people could do these things their entire lives while only getting a handful of tickets. Camera enforcement makes a ticket a certainty every time you break the rule. I don’t know why NYC needs Albany’s permission for every kind of camera enforcement. Every bus should have a camera. Every corner should have a red light/failure to yield camera.

  • Joe R.

    The schedules are part of the problem. Often the schedules assume some sort of delay en route. When that delay isn’t present, the drivers go as slow as molasses to avoid having to sit at intermediate stops to keep from running ahead of schedule. This is yet another reason why cameras are needed. If bus lanes were always clear, the schedule can and should assume exactly that. Personally, I would rather have bus schedules so optimistic that the bus is almost always a few minutes late by the end of the run. That would force driving aggressively all the time. By aggressively I don’t mean running pedestrians or cyclists off the roads. I just mean keeping dwell times to a minimum, then keeping the foot on the accelerator until the next stop.

  • JarekFA

    Nobody fears a bus ticket for a “quick stop” to pick something up. People don’t care. They’re in a car — why should they care about a bus. They have things to do and they don’t want to be inconvenienced. It’d be one thing if they were guaranteed to get a ticket if parked in a bus stop as a bus approaches — but, that so rarely happens.

  • Samuelitooooo

    The bus lanes by Jamaica Center are remain infested with dollar vans!

  • Fool

    NYPD: The biggest impediment to advancing NYC.

  • snrvlakk

    And once again we face the idiocy that is NY City’s TRAFFIC LAWS (!) & their enforcement being treated not as a local matter, but as appropriately the responsibility of the state government in Albany. New York City voters should not be deciding how traffic is managed in tha Adirondacks or Seneca or Onondaga county. The converse is also true. This lunacy needs to be addressed.

  • AnoNYC

    Way too many gaps in the bus lane camera network to make them effective as well.

    Just today I passed some lady just chillin in the bus lane having a conversation with someone on the sidewalk for several light cycles. No camera covering that section. This was on 2nd Ave in Manhattan.

    NYPD enforcement is not going to make the biggest difference when it comes to keeping these lanes clear.

  • AnoNYC

    I believe the original routes had cameras on the buses. We need both overhead cameras to prevent violations before they block the bus and bus mounted to capture those who cut off the buses in the lanes.

  • You Know!

    Instead of placing the entire burden of ticketing bus lane violators on the NYPD. Why not institute a program that deputize a group of ordinary volunteer citizens.(1000? only for bus lane violations) Those volunteers would take photos(camera: date &time synchronized) of license plated . Forward those pictures to clerical staff at the NYPD where a ticket is mailed to the registered owner . It works in my community for handicap parking. There is a small army that patrol the lots looking for those without proper permits.

  • AnoNYC

    Bus lanes have automated camera enforcement. The problem is that there are coverage gaps.

    NYPD is really only needed to push out those who are sitting in the lane either unaware or because they don’t care (commercial/municipal). NYPD also needs to stop their own from parking in the lanes.

  • Colby Spath

    Just tow them…

  • While it’s true that NYPD can’t be everywhere, sustained enforcement will have a lasting effect. Roughly two years ago, around the time James O’Neill took over the NYPD, they began a sustained campaign of traffic enforcement, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. As a car owner since 2010, you used to never see much enforcement. Driving across the Manhattan or Williamsburg Bridges at 60-80mph was a common practice. Now you see nearly everyone maintaining speed on all bridges. Taxis maintain the speed limit even late at night on main thoroughfares such as 4th Ave in Brooklyn. You don’t have to be everywhere to be somewhere, and a lot of drivers have felt the sting of enforcement over the last couple of years.

    So I think bus lane enforcement can have lasting effect, even if Albany doesn’t allow us to install automated enforcement.