Queens transit advocates rally for bus cameras to catch bad drivers

State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (left) and State Sen. John Liu (center) join transit advocates at a rally for Queens bus lane enforcement. Photo courtesy of Jorge Muniz/Riders Alliance.

State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (left) and State Sen. John Liu (center) join transit advocates at a rally for Queens bus lane enforcement. Photo courtesy of Jorge Muniz/Riders Alliance.

By Jonathan Sperling

Queens transit advocates took to the streets of one of the most bus-dependent sections of Flushing on Wednesday to rally for camera enforcement of bus lanes citywide. Bus-mounted cameras would identify motorists who illegally park in or driving through bus lanes.

Local leaders joined members of Riders Alliance and other transit advocacy groups in urging Albany to authorize the MTA and Department of Transportation to automate the enforcement of bus lanes. Keeping bus lanes clear is especially important in Queens, where large swaths of the borough’s eastern portion are without subway service, the advocates said.

“Riders have worked tirelessly to win bus lanes. But it will all come to nothing if those lanes are blocked and the rules go unenforced,” said Rebecca Bailin, political director for the Riders Alliance.

“Riders' time is as valuable as any other New Yorkers',” Bailin continued. "State leaders need to step up and authorize camera enforcement citywide so that all New York riders can get where we need to be quickly and reliably.”

The rally took place on Main Street between 56th Avenue and Booth Memorial Avenue, where the closest subway stop — Main Street on the No.7 lines — is nearly a mile away.

The Q58 bus, which transports riders between Ridgewood and Flushing, was the ninth-busiest bus route citywide in 2016, with nearly 9.7 million riders in 2016, according to the MTA. In 2017, the Q58 ranked eighth in weekday ridership citywide.

Other Eastern Queens neighborhoods, such as Jamaica, St. Albans and Queens Village, also rely heavily on efficient bus service, which is enabled by clear bus lanes. Archer Avenue, Hillside Avenue and Jamaica Avenue are among the dozens of bus lane locations citywide.

In March, the MTA announced plans to equip 120 buses in its fleet with a camera system that can document clear cases of bus lane violation. Known as Automated Bus Lane Enforcement system, it works by capturing the license plate, photo, video, location and timestamp of vehicles obstructing bus lanes. The information is then sent to the Department of Transportation for review and processing.

People who drive, park or stand in a bus lane during its hours of operation are subject to fines ranging from $115-150, according to the DOT.

“This advanced automated camera technology will make a real difference toward clearing the way for our buses as they navigate some of the most congested roadways in the nation,” said MTA Bus Company President Darryl Irick in a statement in March.

The MTA also announced in April that it would redesign Queens’ bus network, which has gone unchanged for decades. Average bus speeds in Queens are down 3 percent since 2015, when they dipped to an average of 8.9 mph, according to MTA data.

“Bus speeds in NYC rank the slowest, so it is critical that we push for service enhancements that will have a significant impact on the way transit riders experience public transit,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic. “For SBS routes that are often obstructed, lane enforcement is essential to ensuring lanes remain clear for the thousands of passengers who rely on local bus service."

Queens residents can give their input on the redesign by attending an open house on May 28 at the Central Jamaica Library, located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd. from 7-9 p.m. Queens bus riders can also provide input for the redesign plan by visiting the Queens Bus Network Redesign form on the MTA’s website.