New cameras installed on Muni buses to catch cars in bus-only lanes

Motorists in San Francisco who park or drive in bus lanes may soon be in for a rude awakening.

In an effort to improve bus services, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is expanding an existing program that uses Muni buses to cite drivers using transit-only lanes.

The plan is to gradually install forward-facing cameras that will record motorists illegally in bus lanes on all of the 819 Muni buses, but there is no set time as to when this transformation will be complete. A motorist caught on camera will be cited up to $115.

The Transit Lane Enforcement Pilot project was launched in 2008 to deter people from driving in bus-only lanes. Motorists using these lanes cause bus delays and traffic because buses have to maneuver around them. Paul Rose, spokesman for the SFMTA, said keeping bus lanes unobstructed ensures Muni buses can get to their destination on time and without incident.

“It’s one of the self-enforcing ways we can help (Muni buses) improve their transit travel time,” said Lulu Feliciano, transit outreach manager of the Transit Effectiveness Project, a program created to improve services and provide quicker Muni rides.

Lane enforcement is only one of many initiatives under the Transit Effectiveness Project. Feliciano said one of the reasons buses are unreliable and inefficient are these vehicles in transit lanes.

“Some people think that they can be in the transit-only lanes and the message is no, there is a reason why it’s a transit-only lane,” said Feliciano.

Feliciano explained that Muni buses catch people breaking the law just like red light cameras do.

Currently 30 buses have parking violation cameras and have been issuing citations since the program began.

Fines vary depending on the violation. Cars driving along transit-only lanes receive a $60 fine, while those illegally parked get a higher fine of $115.

Last year, the SFMTA issued 3,000 citations that generated nearly $300,000 for the agency, but Rose said the program is not about creating revenue, but about improving Muni services.

There are about 15 miles of transit-only lanes in San Francisco, primarily in Chinatown and the Financial District. SFMTA plans to add more bus-only lanes throughout the city.

SF State math major Saki Hanaoka, 19, thinks this program is a good idea and hopes it improves delays. She said if a bus is late and at capacity, she has to wait even longer for the next delayed bus.

“I have to wait for the bus a long time,” Hanaoka said. “That is a problem.”

On the other hand, business major Dee Smith, 19, said Muni drivers were the problem, not cars blocking the street. He said he has seen many bus drivers stop to get out and get something to eat before the end of their route.

“(Muni) drivers don’t even take their jobs seriously,” Smith said.

Smith, who uses Muni every day, expressed frustration that Muni is never on time. He thinks this program is not about improving service but about making money.

“Muni is trying to make money any way they can,” Smith said.