By Olivia Scheck and Patrick Hedlund
EAST SIDE— New surveillance cameras monitoring motorists driving in and out of the new First and Second Avenue express bus lanes began operating Monday, threatening to slap scofflaw drivers with steep fines for blocking the designated corridors.
Drivers caught riding in the dedicated lanes, which run between Houston and 125th streets, for anything other than right-hand turns or passenger drop-offs and pickups will receive summonses ranging from $115 to $150, according to the MTA.
East Side elected officials State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh held a press conference Monday to discuss the new guidelines, specifically addressing concerns held by cabdrivers over how the rules will affect them.
Cabbies are allowed to pull over in the lanes to make "expeditious" drop-offs or pickups of passengers, the MTA said. Cameras installed in the front of the buses, as well as five stationary cameras at certain intersections along the routes, will monitor the lanes and levy fines to anyone not obeying the new regulations.
Drivers are also allowed to cross over into the designated lanes a block ahead of any planned right turns without being ticketed.
"If we're going to make transportation work, we have to make transportation work for everybody," said Kavanagh, whose district stretches from the Lower East Side to Midtown East, adding that enforcement won't be done in an "arbitrary way."
Gov. David Paterson signed legislation this summer permitting the use of surveillance cameras to allow for more efficient bus-traffic flow in the protected lanes.
"I know people have been complaining about it," said Harlem resident Ed Houston, 22. "But once people start abiding by the bus lanes they're going to notice it's a lot faster."
The prospect of getting hit with a three-figure fine will also ward off potential lane blockers, riders said.
"Once they get their first $115 [summons]… they'll start taking it easy and stay in their own lane," said William Pitt, 58, who lives in Brooklyn but often travels by bus to the VA Medical Center on First Avenue and 23rd Street.
On certain blocks where the designated lanes run curbside, cars are allowed to park in the lanes during off-peak hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as after 7 p.m., the MTA said.
On blocks where the lanes are offset from the curb, parking is prohibited throughout the day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
During a trip on a Select Bus along First Avenue Monday morning, all but a few drivers were observing the offset bus only lanes.
But one bus driver said that parked cars block the curbside lane "all the time" and that yellow cabs are frequent offenders.
However, another bus driver noted that the parked vehicles are mostly gone by 2 p.m., and that traffic agents "ticket pretty aggressively" when cars are in violation.
The cabdrivers themselves worry that the surveillance cameras may not be subjective enough when determining the definition of "expeditious," saying that passengers with bad credit cards, large bills or talking on their cell phones often slow down the drop-off process.
"How's the camera going to detect that a passenger is not getting out of the cab?" said John McDonagh, 30-year taxi driver. "We want to get them out as quick as possible. It just became my problem."
Nonetheless, the cabdrivers were assured that their fears would be taken into consideration during this next step in the process.
"It's business as usual," said David Pollack, executive director of the Committee for Taxi Safety, an association that includes about 7,000 taxi drivers. "Nothing has changed."
In addition to the camera-enforced lanes, the buses, which only make express stops, use special curbside ticketing machines so that drivers don't have to waste time waiting for commuters to dip their MetroCards.
MTA Chairman Jay Walder said that the Select Bus Service had already sped up travel times by more than 15 minutes, as the Authority addressed problems that arose during the project's unveiling last month.
Responding to riders' complaints about buses "bunching" together, the MTA said it added four buses to the weekday lineup and began supervising buses to ensure that they were staying on schedule.
The agency also began allowing riders to use their Select Bus Service tickets on local buses when they arrive first.
In addition to the five cameras on First and Second avenues, the MTA will install surveillance on cross-town along 34th Street beginning next year.