Byford: Cameras Are A Lot Better Than Cops at Clearing Bus Lanes

The NYPD's meager week-long enforcement initiative won't make a dent for riders, the MTA's buses and subways chief says.

For years, Albany has limited camera enforcement to Select Bus Service routes, excluding high ridership corridors like Fulton Street. Photo: Ben Fried
For years, Albany has limited camera enforcement to Select Bus Service routes, excluding high ridership corridors like Fulton Street. Photo: Ben Fried

Andy Byford wants cars out of the way of the city’s buses — and enforcement cameras will do it better than cops.

Automated enforcement succeeds where police officers fail because cameras are “constantly present,” the NYC Transit president told reporters after Thursday’s MTA board meeting.

“It’s unsustainable to expect police to be at every intersection,” Byford said. “We’ve got to have something that’s much more present — that’s absolutely understood by New Yorkers: Don’t go in that bus lane. You will get filmed, you will get fined.”

Byford added that he wants to put enforcement cameras on every bus — something state law currently prohibits.

You can’t rely on having a cop on every corner,” he said. “I would have forward-facing cameras on all the vehicles, that could recognize license plates.”

Byford’s comments come two days after Streetsblog reported on a tiny NYPD bus lane enforcement initiative that will last just one week. NYPD has increased its enforcement of blocking bus lanes, but to little avail, as Streetsblog also reported: Travel speeds remain more or less flat, having increased just .1 miles per hour, or 1.2 percent, on average between October 2017 and last month, according to MTA data [PDF – Page 68].

The NYPD’s latest initiative, which began on Monday, is a rather tepid step. On Thursday, the police department informed Streetsblog that the seven-day enforcement blitz would target “all bus stops and bus lanes,” a lofty goal, albeit only through Sunday.

After that brief spike in tickets, things will likely go back to normal. The initiative could send bus lane violators a strong message, or not.

As the city’s speed camera program has shown, automated enforcement would have a much larger impact. Despite being deployed in just 140 school locations, the speed cameras issued more than 4.6 million tickets between 2014 and this past summer. Over the same time period, the NYPD’s 38,000 officers dolled out just 519,372 speeding violations.

State law currently limits bus lane cameras to the city’s 16 Select Bus Service routes, a tiny fraction of the 252 routes citywide. Byford said expanding that authorization is on the MTA’s “shopping list” of requests for the state legislature.

It remains to be seen, however, how high a priority cameras will be, given how much Byford needs from the state legislature if he has any hope of fixing the cash-strapped agency and its crumbling stations, outdated equipment, and World War II-era signals.

It’s certainly going to be one of our submissions to Albany,” he said. “This will be a very useful piece of legislation to have.”

Unfortunately for Byford, camera enforcement could be a political minefield. Three years ago, the SBS bus lane cameras passed the Assembly with just 79 votes in favor and 60 against, a narrow margin given the fact that two-thirds of the seats in the chamber are filled by New York City lawmakers.

  • ortcutt

    How are forward-facing cameras going to know whether someone has a parking placard though?

  • walks bikes drives

    Parking placards do not legally apply to bus lanes. A handicap permit, which is the most broad, only applies to legal parking spaces. Bus lanes are No Standing zones where even a handicap placard would not apply.

  • walks bikes drives

    Most broad, next to an NYPD permit, or vest, or handwritten note… But officially, it is the most broad.

  • DoctorMemory

    If this happens, anyone want to set the over/under on how many tickets Marty Golden racks up in the first year of enforcement?

    Whatever the number is, I’m taking the over.

  • AnoNYC

    The city needs mounted cameras to prevent people from driving in the lanes (where they end up stuck, eventually blocking thee bus), and bus mounted cameras for those who cut in front of the bus.

    There are huge gaps in camera coverage within existing camera enforced bus lanes.

    And the DOT has rolled out small stretches of bus only lanes on non-SBS routes here and there, but due to no enforcement, people just disregard them.

    And the request should be to authorize the city home rule on the camera enforcement issue, especially now that the IDC is gone and the Dems have retaken control.

  • Jason
  • walks bikes drives

    While I realize his comment was tongue in cheek, it got me thinking about how people would attempt to argue their way out of the tickets.

  • LimestoneKid

    They should use the cameras to keep the bus stops clear as well because, as we all know, that’s also a favorite spot for NYC’s finest to camp out.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Two-thirds of the seats in the chamber are filled by New York City lawmakers.”

    I doubt it’s that gerrymandered, though it might be close to half.

    “It’s unsustainable to expect police to be at every intersection,” Byford said.

    In FY 2016 the NYC Police Pension Fund Article II has 34,435 working members, and 47,939 retired members. How many intersections are there?

  • Now that Marty Golden is out , this has a very good chance.

  • JarekFA

    You are usually permitted to take the bus lane if you’re turning right at the next intersection.

    But I’d love to see people get ticketed for stopping in bus stops. People just use them as a place to stop for a couple minutes when going in to pick up something real quick. But that’s a huge f— you to bus riders. And cops never ticket for it and indeed are frequently the biggest violaters.

  • HamTech87

    Bus lane and bike lane blocking is made worse because we don’t have parking reform. Sure some drivers double-park anyway even when there is an open parking space, but if we reached the Shoup-optimal level of 1-2 open spaces on every block, we would have fewer bus and bike lane blockers. We just need Mayor De Blasio to realize this.

  • Scroller

    Both need to be addressed but without camera enforcement there will always be a set of drivers who will prefer double park directly in front to “run in.” How many times have you seen a car in the bike lane or otherwise double parked with an open space feet away?

  • George Joseph Lane

    Given that 2/3 of the states resident live in the city, having 2/3 of the lawmakers represent them is the opposite of gerrymandering.

  • ortcutt

    Population of New York State: 19.8 Million
    Population of New York City: 8.6 Million
    Percentage of New York State population in New York City: 43.4%

    I don’t know where you got the idea that 2/3rds of the state population lives in New York City. More than 2/3rds of the state population lives in the MTA service area, but that’s another thing entirely.

  • neroden

    The biggest problem is the lack of loading zones. The worst double-parkers are trucks and taxis, who should be in loading zones. There just aren’t any loading zones.

    People driving private cars in the five boroughs are basically insane; but they’re not the major problem. It’s the trucks and the taxis and the limos and the for-hire cars double-parking, and they need designated loading zones.

  • neroden

    Cops need to be ticketed for their routine traffic violations. The question is, who’s gonna haul in these criminal scofflaws? We’d have to start some sort of “police force” to arrest the members of the crime gang known as the NYPD…

    Where I live, the county sherriff’s office ticketed college police for illegally parking in a bus stop. I was so proud of my county.

  • George Joseph Lane

    Sorry, I was looking at the metropolitan area, not the legislative area. You are quite right.