UPPER EAST SIDE — Cameras have deterred drivers from running red lights and speeding past schools — and they could help keep New York City's bus lanes clear too, lawmakers and advocates say.
State law limits the number of routes where cameras can be used to ticket drivers who block bus lanes. Legislators and transit advocates say they want to change that through the state budget so cameras can be used across the city.
"Thanks to technology we can actually assure, through photos and tickets, that we can change people's behavior, and that's what this is about," state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said at a Friday news conference on the Upper East Side.
Current law only allows the city to use cameras on as many as 16 of more than 300 bus routes, and just 13 currently have active fixed cameras, according to city Department of Transportation officials. Fines for drivers who get caught range from $115 to $150, said Ed Pincar, the department's Manhattan borough commissioner.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's state budget includes a proposal to remove the cap on the number of routes, which would allow the program to expand. Transit advocates say the cameras provide enforcement that's vital to improving service on the city's notoriously slow buses.
"Bus lanes and enforcement go like peanut butter and jelly, like coffee and milk. You can't have one without the other," said Stephanie Burgos-Veras, a senior organizer at Riders Alliance. "And without dedicated enforcement private vehicles will continue to block bus lanes, and what that is sending to riders is that their time is not important."
Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to install an average of 10 to 15 miles of bus lanes each year in an effort to raise bus speeds 25 percent by 2020. The NYPD has also deployed dedicated towing teams to get cars out of bus lanes. But riders can't depend on a cop being on every corner to make sure the lanes are clear, Krueger said.
When the bus lane along the M15 Select Bus Service route is actually working correctly, City Councilman Ben Kallos said he gets to "zoom past cars that look like a parking lot."
"Buses should be one of the fastest ways to get around our city," Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, said.
While Cuomo has backed expanding the use of cameras, it remains to be seen whether the proposal will be in the final state budget ahead of the April 1 start of the state's fiscal year. The Democratic state Assembly's one-house budget plan does not include the governor's proposal to expand the camera program.
But the problem of cars blocking bus lanes is likely to continue. Just before lawmakers started their curbside news conference on Friday, a blue Ford van pulled into the clay-colored bus lane behind them.