Chiu Bill Would Let Muni Cameras Ticket Drivers Cruising in Transit Lanes

Muni could get greater authority to ticket drivers violating transit lanes like this one at Third and Howard Streets under a new bill proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Assemblymember David Chiu has proposed a bill to give Muni greater authority to keep transit-only lanes and bus stops clear of cars using the enforcement cameras that are now on every bus.

Assemblymember David Chiu today with his successor, D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen (right), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and SFTRU’s Thea Selby. Photo: Aaron Bialick

AB 1287 would allow Muni to issue citations to drivers who delay transit riders by cruising down transit-only lanes, parking in bus stops, and blocking intersections. It would also make the camera enforcement program permanent, as it’s currently a pilot program due to expire at the end of the year.

It’s the first transportation bill at the state level from Chiu, who was elected to the State Assembly in November after serving as District 3 Supervisor.

Camera enforcement “is about making dedicated space for buses work as well as possible,” Chiu said at a press conference today. “We all know that Muni is simply too slow, with an average speed of 8 mph. Transit-only lanes are critical to letting Muni do more than just crawl through our congested streets. For bus-only lanes to work, they can’t have cars double-parked or driving in them.”

Currently, Muni can only use cameras to ticket drivers who park in transit lanes, as spelled out by the bill that established the pilot program in 2007. Moving violations must be enforced by the SFPD, and drivers who park in bus stops and transit lanes, or block intersections, can only be cited by police or parking control officers on the scene.

Chiu’s bill would allow the SFMTA to send out tickets for moving violations captured on camera. Drivers caught cruising in a bus lane would get a $110 parking citation — which costs less than a moving violation.

Chiu said Muni is the first known major transit agency to install cameras on every bus and, if his bill is passed, would be the first to be authorized to ticket all transit lane violators.

While Chiu said he has yet to secure co-sponsors in the legislature yet, he’s confident the bill will pass. “This was a significant discussion a number of years ago” when the pilot program was re-authorized in 2011, “and there was good support at the legislature for that.”

The bill is backed by Mayor Ed Lee, who didn’t attend the press conference, but issued this statement:

San Francisco continues to experience unprecedented growth, and as a result, has an increased demand on our streets. AB 1287 will reauthorize our City’s transit-only lane enforcement to help make Muni, taxis, shuttles, bikes, and cars move around the City more smoothly and predictably, and can make the streets safer for everyone, particularly pedestrians.

SFMTA chief Ed Reiskin emphasized that expanding camera enforcement is not about generating revenue but about “compliance, to keep people out of where they shouldn’t be.”

Violators are “inconveniencing thousands of people and creating an unsafe situation,” said Reiskin. The SFMTA is expanding transit-only lanes, he said, and “we can’t make those effective without this program.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has led the charge at City Hall for more double-parking enforcement, said the message should be, “If you stop your car in a transit-only lane, you are going to get a ticket, period. I can tell you that people will very quickly realize that and stop doing it.”

SF Transit Riders Union Chair Thea Selby, a Lower Haight resident, said her commute has been “halved” by the contra-flow transit lane on eastern Haight Street, which eliminated a detour for riders on two bus lines and lets them bypass a queue of highway traffic. Those kinds of improvements, she said, move Muni closer to SFTRU’s vision of an “awesome” system for riders.

According to Chiu’s office, camera enforcement has helped speed up Muni trips on 26 miles of transit lanes, with a 15 percent improvement on downtown Sutter Street.

Under Chiu’s bill, drivers caught blocking intersections where bus cameras are in use could also receive tickets in the mail, which would aid the SFMTA’s recent efforts to step up enforcement against “box blocking” at chronically-plagued intersections in SoMa. That could help move Muni riders and keep crosswalks free of stopped vehicles.

Reiskin said camera-based enforcement is targeted toward the streets with the most problematic violations, and that the SFMTA doesn’t review every second of bus camera footage.

At the press conference, Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara (formerly Schneider) praised the expansion of camera enforcement. “Transit is the middle leg of a walking trip,” she said. “Everyone that takes transit is a pedestrian.”

Chiu stopped short of saying he’d like to see bus camera enforcement authorized statewide if SF’s program continues to prove successful, but would wait for other jurisdictions to consider adopting the program as they see the results. “It’s a pilot that we think has worked in recent years, and we want to… be able to someday point to it as a model of how we keep our streets less congested.”

  • Mesozoic Polk

    Ugh! How dare they improve the commutes of thousands of Muni riders at the expense of a few cars who could always use one of the 99.9% of other lanes dedicated to cars.

  • Jimbo

    sometimes you have to get into the red lane to change lanes or make a turn. how will they know the difference with the camera?

  • I was under the impression that the cameras were for video, not static snapshots. So, if someone entered the red lane and then made a turn, they’d be clear, while someone who entered the red lane and then proceeded to hurtle down several blocks would be ticketed. However, someone with actual knowledge should confirm that!

  • Kind of crazy that the state controls how San Francisco gives out tickets (this law is just for San Francisco?) but Chiu could be a force for good in Sacramento if he focuses on enabling San Francisco to do things that make sense for our particular situation. (Can he tackle RPP next?) Rural San Joaquin, suburban sprawl Orange County, and the second densest city in North America don’t need to all have identical traffic laws.

  • Joel
  • Andy Chow

    Given the controversial nature of red light cameras, there are confidence issues whether SFMTA will be enforcing it “fairly” versus as another revenue source. There are also many legal exceptions for private vehicles to be on transit lanes so I don’t know whether a front view camera is sufficient for a fair enforcement.

    Part of the transit lane effectiveness has to do with design. If is to be open access between a regular travel lane and parking lane, you accept some level of operational compromise (just as with proof of payment you accept some level of fare cheats, or any large business to accept some level of shoplifting). If it doesn’t work the way it should, shouldn’t it be a job for the agency to study why and change the design, rather than just giving out tickets electronically (essentially create a different version of speed trap) for the money that it provides.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Actually, I think this should be expanded…. I routinely see cars parked on sidewalks, vehicles blocking bike lanes, and yes, private cars in bus lanes on my commute…. Why shouldn’t I be able to take a photo with my phone and upload it to to an SFPD URL, and have a citation go out routinely? If we’re serious about enforcing these laws… Why not enlist the citizenry and not rely solely on cameras in buses?

  • Andy Chow

    San Franciscans (even daily transit riders and cyclists) may time to time drive in other cities. If SF can have a unique set of traffic laws, why shouldn’t other jurisdictions have them as well? A good reason for uniformity is safety. You want bike lanes or transit lanes to have to look the same whether it is in San Francisco, San Jose, or in Orange County. The same goes for pedestrian facilities.

  • Bruce

    Thanks, Bob Gunderson sock puppet 😛

  • Avoiding the hyperbolic curve and looking at what’s currently on deck, we’re talking about a new way to enforce something that has already been in effect for 10’s of years: bus (and sometime taxi) only lanes.

    Lately the city’s been making it even more blatantly obvious by throwing down a lot of red paint.

  • Jim

    The cameras on the bus record live video, whereas most red-light and speed cameras only take still pictures. Currently, PCOs review the video footage and issue citations. If a driver is attempting to park their car or make a turn, the video is proof enough whether the driver deserves a citation.

    Since being introduced in the 70s, the only things that have changed about SF’s transit lanes are being painted red, the removal of the HOV diamond, and the introduction of enforcement cameras. The purpose of the lanes are also covered in the driver handbook. It’s pretty inexcusable for a driver to not notice that they’re blatantly driving in a lane that’s meant for another mode of transport.

  • Maybe they can just pipe the live feeds into Periscope and Meerkat, and crowdsource the enforcement 😉

  • theqin

    While a nice idea because it means I could put a camera on my bike to keep drivers out of the bike lane, it could open up fraudulent tickets via “photoshop.” Additionally as I understand it, you have the right to make an appeal in traffic court where you can meet the person charging you. In this case presumably a normal citizen can’t go around writing tickets and there would be no enforcement offer who could show up to testify against you.

  • fnarf

    Vehicles driving or parking in bus or bike lanes should be plucked off the street by helicopter and dropped in the sea.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Bring this to LA!

  • Why limit it to SF? Every transit agency in the state should be encouraging their local legislator(s) to sign on.

  • Jimbo

    this would also be great to do with bicycles who are in the wrong place. first we need to get all bicycles registered with a license plate on them so we can report those breaking the law

  • yermom72

    Great, one more expense for your hardworking Uber/Lyft driver.

    Why does SF hate innovation?

  • Rocket

    Dropped off gently at a car dealership. Everybody wins!

  • Kenny Easwaran

    What “bicycles who are in the wrong place”? There are very few places a bicycle isn’t legally allowed to be – on freeways and inside buses are the only ones I can think of. I suppose in some cities they’re not allowed to be on sidewalks either.

  • AntiSlice

    SF is one of those cities, at least for those over 18. I don’t see a lot of sidewalk riders though, and they’re usually going pretty slowly.

    I’m guessing “in the wrong place” is “in front of Jimbo”.

  • Dark Soul

    Remember the transit lanes removed people right to park.

  • For real or trolling? “Following the law: Just one more expense for…”. Yes, pesky pesky laws.

  • *sigh*…you want people to wear license plates too?

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