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Los Angeles Hopes Tech Can Help Make More Equitable Bus Lanes

L.A. Metro bucked digital privacy concerns when it turned to technology to monitor and enforce dedicated bus lane rules. The move is a win that places the rights of bus riders above the privacy of offenders.

The interior of a L.A. Metro bus with passengers seated and standing, traffic visible through windows.

When Los Angeles Metro tried to turn to technology to help with bus lane enforcement, it ran into state laws preventing it from using camera technology to enforce the bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard.

“Technology was not the barrier to implementation. Policy was typically the bigger issue,” remarked Joshua Schank, the former chief innovation officer for L.A. Metro. Schank recently joined boutique consulting firm InfraStrategies as a managing principal.

It was illegal for Metro to use bus lane camera enforcement. What's more, the transit agency was not the party responsible for ticketing these offenders — that falls to the LAPD.

“So we had a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to get to the point where we could even use this technology,” said Schank this week, speaking on a panel organized by CoMotion LIVE. The discussion covered some of the issues that arise when developing dedicated bus lanes, and innovative solutions to address them.

The automated technology in question was developed by Hayden AI, which uses cameras, along with machine learning to monitor dedicated bus lanes to ensure cars and other vehicles are not blocking them.

Ultimately, the transit agency was able to lobby state officials in Sacramento to change state laws and allow Metro and other agencies to test pilot projects using the technology. Metro plans to issue an RFP this summer which would identify a technology partner for wider application on other bus routes.

However, to get to this point, Metro had to navigate the evolving landscape of digital privacy and other concerns to get lawmakers to go along with a policy change.

“The way that we were able to overcome that barrier was making a very clear argument for why it was not an equitable thing to do, to prioritize the privacy of drivers over people who were riding in buses,” said Schank, painting an image of a busload of blue-collar workers being delayed because of the whims of more privileged Angelenos.

“To delay a busload of 50 people, who may be low income, because of privacy concerns about cameras on the Mercedes that’s pulling over to get a cup of coffee was a pretty stark contrast that we were able to present in hearings in Sacramento that eventually got us over the hump and got that legislation passed,” he added.

The Hayden AI technology is a “deep-learning, computer-based, AI tool that uses perception to identify not only vehicles that are illegally traveling in or that are parked in bus lanes, but is also able to identify vehicles that are parked at bus stops or other types of infrastructure around the bus network that may be in need of attention,” said Charles Territo, chief growth officer with Hayden AI.

A similar pilot in New York City resulted in a 17 percent increase in bus speeds due to better monitoring and enforcement of bus lanes, he added.

“If you’re going to make the effort, and go through what it takes to make one of those lanes a BRT lane, then it’s important to show that you’re going to enforce the use of that lane for its intended purpose,” said Territo, during the panel discussion.  

Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.
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