Video courtesy Rooted in Rights

Update: The two automated camera enforcement bills are scheduled for hearings next week. Senate Bill 5789 will be heard Monday at 3:30 pm. House Bill 1793 will be heard Thursday, February 14 at 3:30 pm.

Four bills were introduced last week — two pairs of identical “companion” bills – to give WSDOT and local governments more tools to get cars out of lanes they aren’t supposed to be in. Senate Bill 5695 had its hearing (TVW recording) in the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 1710, by Rep. Jake Fey (D – Tacoma) and SB 5695, by Sen. Marko Liias (D – Lynnwood), would raise the fine for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane violations. The current fine is $136. Under the bill, the fine for a first infraction would be $242. The second violation would cost $499. Additional infractions would cost $755 per occurrence. The two bills were requested by WSDOT.

At the hearing for SB 5695, Sen. Liias gave anecdotal testimony, from the experience of a friend who has a baby in the back seat, that lane violators are probably being caught roughly once per hundred times they wrongfully enter HOV lanes.

Travis Snell, Government Relations Liaison for WSDOT testified:

The current penalty of $136 for an HOV [lane] violation provides little deterrent to violators. In some places as many as 50% of HOV [lane] users do not meet minimum occupancy requirements. HOV lanes carry more people than adjacent general-purpose lanes due to higher occupancy of each vehicle.

However, only 1 of the 10 monitored HOV peak-direction corridors met the state performance standard in 2017, down from 2 corridors previously. The degree of compliance with the performance standard worsened for all 10 monitored locations in 2017 compared to 2016.

Capt. Monica Alexander of the Washington State Patrol pointed out that most violations happen during peak hours, officers are mostly likely to be responding to other situations during the peak time, and that many cars have tinted windows, so catching repeat offenders involves a lot of work. She brought some numbers on repeat offenders over the past 24 months:

  • Approximately 208 people had gotten 4 tickets for HOV-lane violations.
  • 50 people had gotten 5 tickets.

Alexander responded to questions from Sen. Tim Sheldon (Potlatch) about leniency for poor drivers by pointing out that officers tend to use their discretion to just give warnings to first-time offenders.

Sen. Phil Fortunato (R – Auburn) suggested that the simple legal solution would be to open up all lanes to general-purpose traffic.

Two of the co-sponsors are Republicans: Curtis King (R – Yakima), the Ranking Republican on the committee and Hans Zieger (R – Puyallup), also a member of the committee.

Automated Camera Enforcement

The other two lane enforcement bills are HB 1793, by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D – Burien), and SB 5789, by Sen. Liias, which would allow local governments to use automated traffic cameras to record bus-only lane infractions, and issue fines using that evidence. The bills would also allow camera enforcement for blocking intersections, blocking crosswalks, blocking bus stops, obstructing ferry boarding and alighting, obstructing emergency vehicles, and violating spaces reserved for emergency vehicles.

This year’s bills have the support of the City of Seattle, King County, and The Seattle Times Editorial Board.

As the Times editorial points out, camera enforcement might even pay for itself:

A detailed budget for the project is not yet available, but city officials say they expect the fines to cover ongoing operations, maintenance and staffing to support transit-lane enforcement.

Hopefully, cities won’t forgo red paint to enhance fine revenue!

The bills are silent on the nature of signage warning drivers that a lane is for transit vehicles only.

As reported by Stephen Fesler at The Urbanist, the bills are also supported by Transportation Choices Coalition, and Rooted in Rights, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. As RiR’s website points out, wheelchair users are 33% more likely than other pedestrians to be killed by cars.

54 Replies to “Four Bills Aim to Clear Unauthorized Cars Out of HOV and Bus-Only Lanes”

    1. Agreed.

      Of course, mcomment would be to make them bus & motorcycle only (allowing both public and private buses, though). Easier to enforce AND maybe public transit would be faster than private SOV again!

      1. The whole Libertarian schtick feels like a political treatise written by the Onion. If the mantra of Ayn doesn’t go from sounding mind blowing at 12 to extremely ridiculous at 18, there’s something seriously wrong in your life.

  1. …and that many cars have tinted windows…

    This is something that the legislature needs to fix if anyone is to believe they care about the Vulnerable User Law. Washington State has one of the least restrictive tinting laws and the laws we do have are not enforced.

    As a pedestrian or cyclist, I rely heavily on making eye contact with drivers in conflicting situations. There are more and more cases where drivers windows and windshields are tinted to the point where I can’t even make out a silhouette of the driver, let alone eye contact. These are also the same drivers that are more likely to be aggressive and run me over.

    If not for pedestrian/cyclist safety, I’m surprised this hasn’t come up for police officer safety reasons.

    1. Agreed. When I’m waiting for the bus I often play games like “how many SOVs in a row” and “how many people on their phones,” and the dark tinting makes it very difficult to see into the automobiles. It’s even more frustrating when I’m cycling and can’t make eye contact with people driving.

      Another related issue is people who have these tinted covers over their license plates. I don’t see any reason besides evading enforcement for having this accessory.

      I basically never see people in cars pulled over by the police in Seattle. Why wouldn’t people break the rules if the rules aren’t enforced?

      1. Another related issue is people who have these tinted covers over their license plates. I don’t see any reason besides evading enforcement for having this accessory.

        Everytime I see those, I chuckle, because the person that bought it is a fool that was liberated from their money. Mythbusters did an episode awhile back where they showed that the tinted covers do nothing because red light cameras typically operate on a broader spectrum than the human eye, including ultraviolet which penetrates those covers like they’re nothing. Try holding a point and shoot camera up to one sometime.

      2. They still make it hard to take pictures of a vehicle fleeing the scene, or to write down the numbers.

        First offense for having one of those should be impoundment of the cover. Second offense, impoundment of the car.

      3. I’d be okay with a law giving police a free pass the smash all license plate covers when they see them. No comment to the driver, no question asked.

    2. A more subtle nudge would be to ban cars with tinted windows from the HOV lanes. That won’t help with the safety issue so much, but it would at least help make the lanes enforceable.

      Don’t exempt the buses, so we can have less-depressing tint-free views.

    3. Seriously! What’s with the tinted windows? I’ve had the same experience as a bicyclist and pedestrian. And yes – drivers with tinted windows tend to be the most aggressive on the road. Guessing many of these guys are driving illegally in the HOV lanes. Seems like a no brainer to outlaw tinted windows….

  2. I’m not sure that increasing the fine will do anything. People who don’t care or don’t know the fine won’t be affected. And while there should be a bite for violating the HOV requirements, I don’t think it should cause extreme financial hardship.

    Also considering that a red light ticket can be only $48 (, there’s a sense that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. It doesn’t seem right for an HOV ticket to be 5 times higher than a red light ticket, when it’s the red light that is actually dangerous.

    1. The reasoning is that it’s much easier to catch someone who runs a red light. If you get caught 5% of the time you run a red, but only 1% of the time you cheat in an HOV lane, 5X the fine creates a similar level of deterrence.

      Combine a small fine with a low chance of getting caught and you won’t have any really effect on the problem.

      1. Also, as Capt. Alexander testified, standard practice for the Patrol is to give a warning the first time someone is caught. It is not spelled out in law, but that is the level of discretion she expects from officers in her department. So, someone who has gotten four tickets will usually have been caught five times. Things like having a mannequin in the passenger seat will tend to jump over that warning straight to the fine.

    2. The fine for running a red light in Seattle is actually $136. Traffic infractions involve a base fine plus various fees that can collectively be larger than the base fine.

      “Red light and stop sign violations are traffic infractions in Washington. Convicted motorists face a maximum fine of $48, plus various fees.

    3. So, in other words, you’d approve of a punishment that would in no way act as a deterrent? There has to be a serious bite, or the chronic offenders will not alter their behavior. While most people act decent and follow the rules, there is a small percentage of self-centered folks that will only change course with a more brutal approach. I doubt these lawbreakers are all sociopaths, but you you have to approach the problem as if they were…they will not waiver based on pleas to do the right thing, and couldn’t care less if they’re screwing over others.

  3. A old colleague violated the HOV lane law; he regarded any fines as cheap enough to not bother obeying. As “many people” say, a fine is just a fee for rich enough people. So improving the law here is a good thing IMO.

  4. HOV: 2 Lanes — should be 2 adults in an SOV
    HOV: 3 Lanes — should be 3 adults in an SOV

    Driving around your infant in a car seat, stay in the general purpose lanes.

      1. I think what he is saying is HOV lanes are to reward people for reducing traffic. 2 adults with driver’s licences in one car does that. 1 driver with children does not.

      2. HOV lanes don’t reduce traffic. They just increase the throughput of people. Giving an advantage to families in a car is one way of mitigating the social justice issues of Lexus lanes.

    1. Here we go again, same trolling opinion, and this has been answered before.

      The rule is: 3(or 2) in the car is considered a carpool.

      The State Patrol told WSDOT that all they have time to do with passing vehicles if they are going to enforce the rule is count heads, not try to determine who is of driving age.

      Yes, it’s logical that it should be licensed drivers to reduce car usage, but that is impractical to enforce.

      1. @ Jim
        How do officers then count baby heads in a car seat? They must assume that if they see something that resembles a carseat that it must be in use. That’s not enforcing the law either. And windows are tinted so much now, it is hard to count heads, let alone those you can’t see because the car seat is below window level….or there’s no car seat or baby at all.

      2. The point is that you’d be drawing an arbitrary line determining which under age driver is eligible, Yeah, I know only driving the ones in the carseats are doing is driving their parents crazy.

        But, the decision to pull a vehicle is determined by the head count.
        Unless everyone entering the HOV lane is subject to a stop and inspection upon entering the lane.

        I tend to think the State Patrol is just as hindered by the tinted window situation and probably isn’t enforcing as much as they could.

  5. Sorry for the broken record response: Fines should be given with far more frequency and at the same time very low for 1st offense, going up for subsequent ones.

    1. That’s the great thing about camera enforcement. It will happen all the time, not just when there are troopers to spare. Yeah, there will be a high volume of warning letters sent out. But it won’t take 200 times driving in the bus lane to get to the first fine.

      1. I would pay increased taxes to have additional enforcement officers, real people and real jobs. Cameras should never be a solution.

      2. It is high time for traffic enforcement to enter the 21st Century. An officer sees the footage–there, the officer has witnessed the violation. As the gripe commonly goes, “boots on the ground” officers really need to be out solving “real crimes” not babysitting childish drivers. If a parking ticket can be issued without the officer actually identifying the driver, so can a red light or speeding or bus lane or HOV lane violation. And the whole privacy argument is moot unless they start putting these cameras in your private driveway.

      3. The jobs we are supposedly taking away are stopping lawbreakers in traffic, and risking life and limb, and possibly deadly violence, to issue a ticket. Some jobs are just not worth the danger, and this may be one of those.

        On top of that, traffic stops during peak hours are a cure that only makes the disease of congestion worse.

        There will be plenty of safe jobs to go around processing warnings and fines. And they won’t interfere with the flow of traffic.

  6. you should not be fined for not paying a transit fare but it’s ok to fine the hell out of lane violators. Seattle social engineering at its finest!

    1. …. because homeless people need access to drive in the HOV and bus lanes?

      As it happens, only one of the five sponsors of SB 5695 and zero of the four sponsors of HB 1710 are from Seattle.

  7. Back in the 80’s Massachusetts changed speeding tickets to be much more expensive – $500+ for going more than 10 mph over the limit. This was intended to curb egregious speeders, particularly on the Mass Turnpike, where 80-90 mph was becoming commonplace. This had no effect on speeding, and did not bring in any additional revenue – but it did pull cops off of patrol duty, and into the courtrooms to defend each and every ticket. After a few months of that, the cops stopped writing the tickets, and after a year or so, the fines were reset back to the “normal” level.

    As a commuter I also know that I don’t _want_ the HOV law to be enforced rigorously _during_ peak commuting hours, because it will cause traffic jams every time a cop pulls someone over. Cops know this too, thankfully.

    It’s fine to change the fines, but that won’t have any material impact on the problem….
    I think the HOT approach, with reliable automated enforcement is the right approach to keep traffic flowing as fast as possible for the given traffic volume / road capacity…

    1. Or flip the Fortunato script, and simply not allow private cars in the HOV lanes during peak hours where and when there are plenty of buses using the lane, and carrying more people than all the other cars in that lane, combined. Let them fly past the traffic, for goshsake.

      Of course, if general traffic can make due with 2 lanes during peak, you may as well paint the bus lane red. If there is too much traffic off-peak, there probably need to be more buses off-peak.

      1. Brent, I don’t think there are places where the buses are frequent enough to justify this. Maybe I-5 between Northgate and the County Line, but there aren’t NEARLY enough to “de-HOT” I-405 or to embargo cars from I-5 south.

      2. Well, if the buses weren’t forced to go just barely faster than the crawling general-purpose lanes, they could run more frequently, and carry more passengers. As WSDOT testified, almost none of the lanes are meeting the performance standard, so all should be considered justified in removing another chunk of cars. I suspect the repeat offenders are a fraction of all offenders, and so amped-up enforcement will only get marginal results, and probably just increase revenue. Repeat offenders just happen to be a useful political whipping post, like “developers” and “techbros”.

        Is SR 520 not justified in having a bus lane?

        Are there no stretches along Highway 99 where bus lanes are justified?

        Are there not enough S I-5 buses to justify a bus lane?

      3. Brent, I agree that were the buses given exclusive lanes they would run more rapidly than they do now. But would they run rapidly enough to replace all the real HOV’s using the lane? There are about 80-85 buses that cross the county line in the 6:30 – 7:30 hour southbound, and with an exclusive lane that might go to 100-120. But I doubt that either ST or CT have the funds for the extra hours, even if the current buses ran more rapidly.

        And, given that the HOV lane sometimes stalls as badly as the GP lanes, there must be on the order of 1500-2000 cars using the lane as well. Even if we figure a 50% violation rate — and it’s probably not that bad — that means a minimum of 1500-2000 people “trying to do the right thing” would suddenly be disadvantaged. That’s 30-40 buses filled with seated riders, fewer if they’re packed.

        So if CT/ST got to 120 buses per hour — two per minute — that would just about balance. But it would cost a lot for the extra service. It would be better to go to HOV-3 as an interim step, though I know that’s just as hard, and perhaps harder, to enforce.

      4. If the N I-5 lanes went to HOV 3+, sure there would continue to be space invaders, but enough of the law-abiding drivers who currently drive HOV 2 would be back in the regular lanes to make a difference, or switching to larger carpools or vanpools.

        At least during peak, most buses are leaving downtown are packed. The agencies count passengers and only provide enough buses to pick up current ridership (not to be confused with current pent-up demand), for the most part.

        Regardless, increasing enforcement patrols by itself is just not going to free up HOV lanes enough to get them to meet state performance standards. I’m not saying don’t do it, but do more than just that.

        Such placebos as fining Lexus owners more and more may drag this out until Lynnwood Link opens, so I’m not going to sweat it too much.

      5. “But would they run rapidly enough to replace all the real HOV’s using the lane?”

        Carpools were a stopgap for a society that had thrown away its comprehensive transit, allowed growth without thinking about transit/walkability access, and were too stingy to pay for even the level for even the level of transit we have now. So carpools aren’t the goal but a band-aid, and if we’re now improving transit maybe we should stop prioritizing carpools. Because carpools failed in the aggregate: most cars are still SOV, and most 2+ and 3+ cars are families or groups who would have travelled together anyway.

        There is a downside, that Metro- and company-supported carpools from Never-Never-Land would be stuck in 60-90 minute traffic. But isn’t that a bit like subsidizing Uber for the few rather than transit for the many? Should we be reserving road space for the largest companies’ shuttles and carpools? Of course the large companies think so, and they have political clout.

      6. A Lyft or Uber car with a passenger is a carpool. That is part of the corporate lobby we have to overcome to get HOV 3+ in the many HOV lanes that are not meeting performance standards.

    2. Easy solution: don’t pull people over. Don’t require police still have to resort to 1950s tactics to issue a violation. Drive alongside and have the vehicle take a photos, or mount stationary video cameras and randomly run them at high resolution to be able to see clearly the head count. Send the violation fine by the mail. The officer witnessed the violation *in person* and has photographic evidence in case of a challenge. Overly tinted windows is an automatic violation.

  8. I’m with you 100% on this one, Brent. Be good if we could safely give buses an extra five miles an hour too. One thing I’m thinking is that the better the buses get, the more people will leave their cars home and ride them. Which could clear a lot of land space for everybody.

    And Grief, haven’t read anybody advocating letting people get away with willful fare evasion. I personally do have a problem, and a serious one, with being subject to same fine a thief gets because I tap my fully prepaid monthly pass “on” after forgetting to tap it “off”. We regular passengers tend to be in a hurry, one reason for buying the pass in the first place.

    Especially galling to know I’m being treated like this so my fare can be divided to the penny among seven separate agencies whose boundaries Sound Transit itself was supposed to effectively erase on items like this. If anybody in the Legislature wants to dish Sound Transit some embarrassment for its own good on this one, you’ll be earning a few cents of my share of your salary, whatever I think of the rest of your politics.

    Even if, like with the car tabs, the Legislature itself initiated this travesty in the first place. Fits the MO.

    Mark Dublin


    1. “I personally do have a problem, and a serious one, with being subject to same fine a thief gets because I tap my fully prepaid monthly pass “on” after forgetting to tap it “off””

      Of course your example is not a valid exception to boarding the train without paying the fare but this will be one of the many excuses willful fare evaders will try to use when they get caught. That’s why it’s best to just issue the fine on the spot and let our judicial system work out whether or not public transportation is a civil right or if monetary fines are unfair to people of lower income.

      “Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding”. – Ra’s al Ghul

      1. Neither the Constitution nor fairness to the poor are at issue here. As soon as the purchase clears my account, the transit system is in irrevocable possession every cent I owe them for an entire month. I cannot possibly be mistaken for an evader because a solid electronic record shows I’ve already paid the whole possible bill.

        If I get sick or leave town, I don’t get a nickel back. In all the years I’ve carried a pass, I don’t think I’ve ever even come close to taking every ride I purchased. If Sound Transit’s budget won’t handle the apportioning of my money internally….it’s welcome to raise the price of my pass.

        If you need an admission of wrong-doing in same category…ok. I buy something at Nordstrom’s and swipe my card at the wrong register. Do you think any court in Seattle would not consider a shoplifting charge grounds for contempt? In Beijing, maybe you get those new citizenship demerits like for a misplaced gum wrapper when your smart-phone rats you out.

        So I guess it was sniveling liberal weaklings like Nietzsche that kicked our civilization’s transit system over the edge and into the abyss of tap-mistake-fraud. Hope his mustache style catches on too.


      2. If it’s obvious Mark has a paid current month pass, then any issue is only one of bookkeeping.

        Regardless of whether the ‘bad guys’ say the same thing, the fare inspector knows at that moment Mark has paid, and the tap-off/on issue is merely a bookkeeping one.

        Sorry, but your view sounds awfully ‘police state’, – guilty until proven innocent.

        If I wanted that treatment, I’d speed through Lake Forest Park at 1 mile per hour over the limit, and just pay the fine.
        (Which is exactly how I found out that’s the way their traffic court works.)

      3. Distance-based fares complicate the issue. The something plus agreement that allows passholders to use Cascades trains requires a pass value of the entire Sounder segment, not just the part you use. And if you’re fare-checked at SODO without tapping in, the inspector has no way to tell whether you really got on at Beacon Hill as you said or Angle Lake. Of course, this suggests the problem is distance-based fares, and secondarily the disadvantages of very long Link lines that add pressure to have distance-based fares (Chicago L lines go only to the adjacent suburbs, and Metra fares are separate from local passes),

  9. And that’s “lane” space. I’ve seen lines struck through misprints on these pages. Any way I can access that editorial tool, preferably in red?


  10. I rode the E Line leaving the Prefontaine stop at 5:04 pm yesterday afternoon, and got off the bus at N 46th at 5:32. That’s only 4 minutes over schedule, so pretty nice for the first full-force day of Tunnelgeddon after two days of Snowpocalypse.

    There was one noticeable bottleneck along the way: It took four light cycles to cross 6th Ave and veer left onto Aurora Ave. I couldn’t see from my vantage point on the near-crushloaded bus, but I assume cars heading north or south on 6th were blocking the box each of the first three cycles.

    When we finally got across 6th, at least 20 riders at the next stop were unable to board. Several more along the way to 46th were also unable to board unless other passengers were alighting. I have no idea how many times buses passed them up (which is still a first-world problem compared to waiting for a bus scheduled to run every half hour that never arrives).

    Adding another bus into the peak-of-peak traffic would have helped alleviate the pass-ups. But rather than paying an operator or two to run extra E Line buses, it may be more cost-effective to station an SPD officer at the five-points corner and control traffic, with an emphasis on giving priority to buses getting across. This would hopefully be a stop-gap measure until block-the-box enforcement cameras are working at full force. Even then, I have no idea how much fining repeat boxers will actually clear up the intersections.

    1. There was a bottleneck at the tunnel’s Harrison Street exit at least one day on the news. SDOT may have underestimated the demand at that exit. Time will tell, after the snow distortions are gone.

      1. I tend to believe that was a combination of drivers wanting to try the tunnel on the first decent-weather day, and other drivers wanting to use S Highway 99 to head downtown, only to get stuck having to go through the tunnel. I haven’t seen reports of that problem repeating. If the snow will stop long enough to finish construction of the last ramp (northbound on the south side of the tunnel), I suspect there won’t be too much more repetition of this particular bottleneck.

  11. Applying fines at a flat rate is fundamentally regressive: ruin a poor person’s life while a rich person pays someone off. Setting those fees at, say, 1%/2%/5% of last year’s gross income would go *much* further as effective deterrence.

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