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.
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.