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City plans ‘tight enforcement’ of violations in new bus transit lanes

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin Transportation Department Director Rob Spillar told Austin City Council members Tuesday that city prohibitions on parking and driving in the dedicated downtown transit lanes would be “patrolled very tightly” until parking in those lanes “starts to switch over.”


“The violations, I anticipate, will be from a new driver that doesn’t fully understand what the impact will be,” Spillar added.


The discussion came as part of Council members’ work session conversation about a proposed steep increase in fines for illegally parked motorists who take up portions of the dedicated transit lanes. If approved, the measure would increase fines from $25 to as much as $500.


In a request for Council action, staff argued that the increase is intended as a deterrent. “These special use lanes are necessary to provide safer and more efficient use of the corridor by the approximately 60 buses per peak hour starting in early 2014,” according to supporting documentation that goes with Council’s agenda. The major target of the ordinance change is “any on-street parking, stopping or standing within the lane or non-transit use of the lane if not otherwise allowed by designation.” (See Austin Monitor, Jan. 21)


The parking fine increase would complement an existing moving citation fee of $200 that could be assessed to any driver traveling in the dedicated transit lanes.


Spillar’s statement about enforcement came in response to a query from Council Member Bill Spelman. Noting a standard law-enforcement understanding, “It’s well known, Rob, in criminal justice circles that deterrent value of something is determined less by the size of the penalty than by the probability of getting caught,” Spelman said.


As part of an attempt to clear a path for the new system, City of Austin and Capital Metro officials pushed for the creation of dedicated mass transit lanes along downtown sections of Guadalupe and Lavaca streets from roughly West Cesar Chavez Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In addition, the new MetroRapid Bus fleet will come equipped with equipment that will allow for the control of traffic signals.


When asked by Council Member Laura Morrison, Spillar said that regular drivers would not notice the signal control. “We will only be adjusting the signals…to help those buses get back on schedule,” he noted. “To the average driver, they probably won’t even know – or even the rider of the new buses – they will not perceive that the signal system is interacting to help get that bus back on schedule.”


The Bus Rapid Transit system remains on track to open Sunday. It will offer two north-south routes that run from north-eastern and -western areas, through downtown, and – depending on the route – south to Westgate or south along Congress Avenue.


Some transit advocates are pushing for an urban rail route along some of the same path. In addition to other objections to that idea, officials note the nearly $40 million in federal money already received for Bus Rapid Transit as a major obstacle to a rail route along the same lines.

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