AC Transit, which operates the public bus system in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is planning to use artificial intelligence to catch drivers who illegally park in bus-only lanes, at bus stops, and in transit centers. The technology can be deployed on any agency bus through existing bus-mounted cameras. 

Robert Lyles, the communications director of AC Transit, told The Oaklandside that  the primary purpose of using the AI camera system is “ensuring the safety of our riders, especially those who are elderly or ADA riders, during the process of boarding and exiting from buses.”

Several AC Transit buses were already equipped months ago with the AI cameras as a “proof-of-concept.” 

According to the company that makes the cameras and software, Hayden AI, the cameras are mounted inside the windshields of buses where they continuously observe traffic, gathering “photos, video footage, license plate information, and other relevant data.” When the AI system detects a violation it automatically creates an “evidence package” and sends this to the police. A video on Hayden AI’s website shows a demonstration of the AI system observing traffic on Broadway in downtown Oakland.

The new cameras might help to improve AC Transit’s timeliness, allowing bus drivers to avoid slowing down or waiting until an illegally parked car is moved. 

AC Transit hasn’t indicated when it plans to roll out cameras across more bus lines, but the agency said it will announce deployment beyond the initial pilot phase to make riders and the rest of the community aware of the new system. People who are caught parking in the bus lanes will receive a warning for the first 60 days of the deployment. 

New state laws make it easier to use cameras and AI technology to enforce traffic laws

The intersection of Broadway and 14th Street in downtown Oakland. Several large delivery trucks and multiple cars are driving on Broadway. One delivery truck in parked in a "bus only" lane on the right side of the street.
A screenshot of video recorded by one of Hayden AI’s artificial intelligence cameras mounted on an AC Transit bus traveling through downtown Oakland. Credit: Courtesy of Hayden AI

Assembly Bill 917 became law last year, allowing all California transit agencies to install cameras on public transit vehicles to enforce parking violations in bus lanes and transit stops. The types of cameras specified in the legislation included powerful systems that don’t need a human operator to identify violations. 

Before AB 917, more narrow laws like SB 1051 allowed only a select few California transit agencies, including San Francisco’s Muni and AC Transit, to use front-facing cameras to identify and ticket illegally parked cars in bus lanes. However, the agencies told legislators that the technology authorized under this law wasn’t as powerful and useful. For example, the camera technology used on most AC Transit Tempo buses since 2020 forced bus drivers to press a button to record images of traffic violations This forced the bus driver to slow down or even stop, leading to traffic back-ups. 

The old technology also forced law enforcement agencies that received image reports to review them through low-resolution photo frames, making it more difficult to discern who was stopping on the bus lane. That led to only 4% of suspected bus lane violators receiving a citation, according to AC Transit.  

“We needed a dependable technology that could enhance the precision of identifying violations and relieve our bus operators from enforcement responsibilities,” Lyles said. 

During the testing phase of the new camera technology earlier this year on two Tempo buses, an average of nine violations were found every day over 48 days. AC Transit said that the new AI cameras were able to successfully identify illegally parked vehicles 99% of the time. 

According to AC Transit, the new AI cameras won’t be able to enforce other types of moving violations, including speeding, which is considered by many traffic safety advocates in Oakland and elsewhere as the most important and dangerous aspect of road collisions, leading to severe injuries and even deaths. 

In San Francisco, all Muni buses have had technology on board that can automatically cite illegal parking in transit-only lanes since late 2014. In New York City, the MTA has been able to ticket bus lane violators since 2019. And AC Transit was authorized to use front-facing citation cameras for transit-only lane citing in 2017 after the California Legislature passed the SB 1051 law. A policy analysis of Muni’s use of the camera citation system in the mid-2010s at the time found that “transit delays were reduced by up to 20%.”

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.