Dedicated bus lanes can improve travel times for public transit riders, but not when other motorists drive or sit idle in those lanes while picking up packages or making deliveries.
To cope with violators who delay bus trips and force cyclists into traffic, some cities are using cameras to record the license plates of offending vehicles and send citations to owners. But these camera programs are still mainly in trial stages and it's not yet clear how effective they actually are.
New York City has been using stationary cameras to keep an eye on bus lanes and is starting to put them on buses themselves. “Everyone is excited about it because instead of having a few cameras in fixed locations, we'll have them on buses,” which can spot violations wherever they go, said Vincent Barone, spokesperson for the New York City Department of Transportation.
Still, several cities wanting to install cameras found the process isn’t as simple as recording license plates and sending tickets or warnings. Aldermen in Chicago wanting to clear the bus lanes found they have to coordinate with local and state lawmakers, transit agencies and law enforcement. Implementing cameras would require a change in Illinois state law, which doesn't allow public buses to use cameras to collect data.
Alderman Daniel La Spata introduced an ordinance July 20 that would allow the Chicago Transit Authority to install such cameras on its buses. Video or still pictures would include the time, date and bus route.
“We don't know the extent of [violations] but I see it every day riding the bus,” said Nicholas Zettel, La Spata's policy director.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. is aiming to move forward with the technology. The District of Columbia Department of Transportation in 2020 launched a four-month trial of a bus lane camera on a busy commuter route to count unauthorized users. DDOT said in an emailed statement that that project “gave us feasibility and operation information to conclude that bus lanes can be enforced using camera technology.” DDOT isn't currently using cameras to monitor bus lanes but is seeking a vendor.
And in nearby Baltimore, a law will take effect in October allowing the city to use cameras for enforcement. In addition to allowing buses to travel more freely, any revenues from fines must be used for public safety purposes.