State Legislators have already approved the use of automated traffic cameras to monitor speeds and discourage drivers from running red lights. Why not also use this technology to ticket cars using transit-only lanes?
The efficiency of transit-only lanes hinges on keeping cars out. All it takes is a one impatient car blocking a bus to delay hundreds of commuters. Today, keeping the city’s transit-only lanes car free is contingent on the communal cooperation of drivers. This doesn’t always work too well, especially during rush hour when any inch gained is a win.
“The only way you get consistent enforcement of either bus-only lanes or block the box is automatic enforcement,” Scott Kubly, director of SDOT, told the Seattle Transit Blog during a podcast interview. “If you can build a driverless car I’m pretty sure we can figure out automatic enforcement of any type.”
Currently, police officers have to actually see the violation occur before a ticket can be written. Periodically the city conducts transit-only lane enforcement events, ticketing drivers using bus only lanes or blocking the box at intersections. But manual enforcement, not always practical nor constant, is time intensive, often requiring 6 to 8 police officers plus an area for vehicles to park that doesn’t block traffic while tickets are being written.
Routes in San Francisco and New York City experienced an increase in transit reliability after the cities installed cameras aboard buses to capture license plates of vehicles using transit-only lanes. The offending vehicles were then sent a citation by mail.
The pilot transit-only lane enforcement program in San Francisco, which just targeted vehicles illegally parked or stopped in the transit-only lanes, resulted in 20 percent reduction in delays on some routes. A review of the program found the enforcement program was changing drivers behavior with only 2 percent reoffending. Some proponents of automatic cameras said the program doesn’t go far enough, and should ticket private vehicles traveling in transit-only lanes.
In New York bus rapid transit lines utilize onboard cameras to discourage cars from using bus-only lanes. Together with other strategies to enhance reliability),they are up to 20 percent faster than the regular bus service.
In 2011 Washington State Legislators approved the use of cameras aboard school buses to catch drivers illegally passing a stopped bus. Several Washington school districts have installed cameras on buses, most recently in Marysville.
Kubly predicted local political consensus to install cameras aboard buses might already exist, with roughly 50 percent of people traveling into downtown come by bus. While using automatic camera to enforce transit-only lanes wasn’t on the mind of Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Rainier Valley, the idea did pique her interest.
“What has been on my radar is vision zero, distracted driving, how do you actually enforce that,” Saldaña said. “It doesn’t make sense to put cameras everywhere, but put them in problem areas to help educate people.”
She supports legislation that would allow local jurisdictions to use onboard bus cameras, saying the cameras could help change the driving culture and promote safety. But Saldaña wanted the tickets to continue being treated as parking infractions, emphasizing the need to carefully handle any data collected and not curtail driver’s civil rights.
Current legislation restricts automated traffic safety cameras from capturing faces of drivers and passengers. Only pictures of the vehicle and vehicle license plate while an infraction is occurring are allowed.