In 1997, London had a problem. it had one of the largest municipal bus systems in the world, with 6,500 buses carrying 5.1 million passengers daily. But 16,000 motorists were driving in bus priority lanes each day, slowing buses, discouraging their use and causing massive gridlock along with $10 billion a year in externality costs to local businesses.
So in 1997, London started an aggressive bus lane enforcement camera program in which either a camera at the front of the bus or a stationary camera on the roadway took pictures of the license plates of motorists driving in the bus lane. The cameras work in much the same way as red light or speed cameras; violators trigger a digital photo of the license plate, which is stored and sent to a processing center. The City sends a $130 fine to the violatorís home address. Today, 900 cameras on buses and 500 roadside cameras patrol the cityís 700 bus lanes, issuing 100,000 summonses each year. The program pays for itself and commuters are now saving an average of 10 minutes in travel time. Bus use is up 7% and reliability12.5% in the last year.
Birmingham, England, Sydney, Australia and Helsinki, Finland and other places now use bus cameras. Should they be used in New York City? Absolutely. New York City has the slowest bus service in America. Buses travel at an average speed of 7.5 mph and crawl along slower than 6 mph on some routes. While there are no numbers on how much bus delays costs New Yorkers a year, it is a fair bet that it as much or more than it was costing London.
A big part of the problem in New York City, as in London, is motorists driving in bus lanes. The New York Police Department issues approximately 10,000 tickets for this offense per year but police officers cannot be everywhere at all times. Automated cameras in New York City would help clear bus lanes, ease traffic congestion and, most importantly, make buses quicker and more reliable. T.A. and the Straphangers campaign will soon ask the state legislature to allow the City and/or the MTA to begin a bus lane camera enforcement program. If it works in London, it will work in New York City.