Muni expanding camera program to nab drivers in transit-only lanes 

click to enlarge Cars in the transit-only lane could be in for more fines in the future. - JOSEPH SCHELL/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Joseph Schell/Special to The SF Examiner
  • Cars in the transit-only lane could be in for more fines in the future.

Drivers travelling in San Francisco’s transit-only lanes take warning: Big Brother will be watching you.

Within the next 15 months, every one of Muni’s 819 buses will be outfitted with cameras capable of snapping photos of vehicles illegally travelling or parking in The City’s transit-only lanes. Any car caught on tape will be subject to fines of up to $115.

Since 2008, about 30 Muni buses have been equipped with the cameras. And even though the rollout has been modest so far, the results have been telling, said John Haley, transit director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni.

“The cameras have been instrumental in changing driver behavior,” said Haley. “When cars see a bus coming, they get the hell out of the way now.”

Removing cars from transit-only lanes is key to Muni’s longtime goal of speeding up service and making it more efficient. A 2010 agency study found that increasing speeds on the Muni system by just 1 mph would result in $76 million in cost savings annually.

“Not only are we seeing a tremendous improvement in our speeds with these cameras, they also make things safer for our passengers,” said Haley. “With fewer cars in the transit-only lanes, buses don’t have to swerve and veer around vehicles as much.”

The cameras also have helped generate revenue for the agency. In 2010, the program resulted in 2,102 citations, producing $220,000 for the agency. Cars parked in transit-only lanes are hit with $115 fines, while vehicles driving in the lane are docked $60.

The agency is in the midst of soliciting bids for the camera expansion project. Haley said all 819 buses will be outfitted within 12 to 15 months. The $800,000 program will be funded out of Muni’s long-term capital project.

Gabe Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, which has long advocated for speeding up Muni service, said changing street designs to better accommodate transit vehicles is the best way to achieve that goal. But in absence of that, other solutions, like cameras, are worth trying.

“The only way to make Muni really work for most people is to make it go faster,” Metcalf said. “That means getting Muni out of traffic. There are a lot of ways to do that, and this is definitely one that’s worth experimenting with. People might get mad with getting ticketed, but they’re not supposed to be in the lanes anyway.”

Along with rolling out the cameras, Haley and the SFMTA are working on plans to expand The City’s transit-only lanes. Currently, there are only about 15 miles of transit-only lanes, most in Chinatown and Financial District. The agency wants to increase transit-only lanes in a “systematic” fashion that will allow Muni vehicles to move freely, Haley said. And those new lanes will all be monitored with the bus fleet’s host of cameras.

“We’re starting to get a lot of experience with cameras,” said Haley. “With all the footage, I’m starting to feel a bit like Cecil B. Demille.”

Coming soon, more cameras

819: Total buses in Muni’s system
30: Buses currently outfitted with transit-only lane cameras
12-15 months: Length of time expected to outfit entire bus fleet with cameras
$60: Fine for driving in transit-only lane
$115: Fine for parking in transit-only lane
15: Miles of transit-only lanes in San Francisco
Source: SFMTA

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