This spring in Downtown Brooklyn, the Department of Transportation rolled out new exclusive bus lanes on Livingston Street (PDF), in part to make up for construction in the Fulton Street transit mall a block over. Sounds good, but a visit to Livingston Street showed that not all bus passengers are benefiting.
Last month I caught a bus on Livingston Street, but we drove the rest of the street in the regular travel lanes, stuck behind private cars. One of the passengers asked the driver why he didn't use the bus lanes, and he said that he's been ticketed for it.
As you might have guessed, this bus was not an official MTA bus, but rather a privately-owned "dollar van." I'm not sure how the van was registered, but legally it's not a bus, so the traffic cop had grounds for writing a ticket. By the letter of the law, it all makes sense.
Practically speaking, though, it's an incredibly boneheaded move. First of all, this punishes the passengers on the van by stopping it to write the ticket, and by delaying passengers on it and every other van whose driver avoids the lane. Secondly, because it does not significantly deter the vans from operating, it slows down the MTA buses every time the vans cross the lanes to pick up passengers at the curb. For that matter, it slows down private cars as well.
This is part of the same pattern where the MTA will not operate sufficient service in these areas to meet demand, and the City will not license vans where they operate, but will not allocate enough resources to shut them down completely either, so the van drivers and passengers are harassed, but the problems of unregulated vans still exist.
I could kind of see the need to keep vans out of the bus lanes if there were a high volume of MTA buses that were slowed down by lots of vans, but that wasn't happening when I was there. As it is it's a completely nonsensical enforcement of arbitrary rules. The NYPD should internally acknowledge that from a practical point of view the vans are mass transit whose passengers could benefit from the use of the lane, and put their enforcement resources to work somewhere else.
The DOT's plans for Livingston Street don't acknowledge the presence of any non-MTA transit on the street. It seems bizarre that they would do such an elaborate study based entirely on legal fictions without addressing the situation as it exists on the ground, but as far as I can tell that's what they did. If they had any intention that these lanes would be used by private vans, they should probably communicate that to the NYPD.