Initiated by former State Assembly member Fiona Ma – who is now running for State Treasurer – in 2007 San Francisco embarked on a pilot program to examine how to reduce the number of private and commercial vehicles parked or stopped in lanes reserved for Muni buses. The Transit Only Lane Enforcement program was one of several initiatives evaluated by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, with the goal of making Muni safer and more reliable. Under the initiative, the fronts of Muni buses were equipped with cameras to record the license plates of vehicles illegally parked or stopped in lanes reserved for public transit. Vehicles captured by the cameras were cited for double-parking, with a $110 fine, following a review of the video image by a City employee.
By punishing those double-parked in bus lanes, SFMTA hoped to reduce the number of times Muni drivers have to navigate busy streets while maneuvering around illegally parked vehicles, helping to ensure on-time bus schedules.
After being reauthorized in 2011, the pilot program was extended indefinitely through Assembly Bill 1287, authored by State Assembly member David Chiu and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015.
“Anyone who moves around San Francisco these days, whether on Muni, on foot, on a bicycle or in a car, knows that our streets are incredibly busy and congested,” said Chiu. “Transit-only lanes are crucial to helping Muni do more than crawl through our congested streets. We need to do everything we can to make the transit-only lanes work, and it makes sense to enhance the program to improve Muni and protect pedestrians.”
In 2012, SFMTA began painting transit-only lanes red as an added deterrent, an approach the agency plans to implement throughout the City. An evaluation of the measure conducted last year found that along Third Street the red paint reduced violations by 48 to 55 percent even when traffic was heaviest.
SFTMA data shows an uptick in TOLE citations issued for the first quarter of 2018 compared to last year. During the first quarter of this year, 211 citations were made, generating $23,210 in fine revenue, compared to 350 citations in 2017, bringing in $38,500 in penalties. There were no citations associated with Third Street transit-only lanes during the first quarter of 2018, with two citations issued on that street last year.
Seventeen citations were issued on Geary Boulevard in Q1 2017, generating $1,870 in revenue; there were only six violations during the same period last year. Total 2017 fine revenue from Geary was $3,630. Mission Street had 23 citations for Q1 this year, compared to 18 during the same period last year, with a total of 30 citations issued on Mission Street in 2017. O’Farrell Street had a slight uptick in citations, from five in Q1 2017 to eight in Q1 2018, while Post and Sutter streets had significant increases. There were only four citations on Post Street during the first quarter of 2017; the same period in 2018 had 76. Sutter Street citations increased by 71 between this year and last. Last year, citations issued for all of the above streets spiked during the fourth quarter, with a total of 184, still 27 fewer than the first quarter of 2018.
“Between 2010 and 2014, the combined cost of the enforcement and video maintenance averaged approximately $334,000 per year,” states a document from the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing. “This number represents the ongoing annual operating cost and does not include initial capital investments which totaled $6.3 million. During the same time period, the TOLE program fines generated on average $256,000 per year in paid fine revenue. These numbers support the program’s stated intent to reduce transit delays and improve transit service, not generate revenue, as the operation of the program actually costs more than the revenue it raises.”
Transit delays are generally caused by transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, excluding taxis, which’re allowed to use transit-only lanes. In 2011, SFTMA reported that approximately 23 percent of TOLE citations were issued to commercial vehicles. Last September, Curbed San Francisco analyzed data between April and June 2017 and concluded that of 1,715 violations associated with drivers entering transit-only lanes, 1,144 were TNCs.