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Greater penalties approved for blocking bus-only lanes

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Stopping, standing or parking in a bus only lane along Guadalupe or Lavaca just got more expensive. The Austin City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to raise the fines for blocking transit priority lanes.

The vote comes just four days before Capital Metro's MetroRapid service begins.

"We're asking people to stay out of those lanes," said Robert Spillar, the director of transportation for the city.

What was a $25 parking ticket is now a $500 fine or more and a Class C misdemeanor.

"The fines are simply there to be a deterrent and get people's attention for delivery vehicles or people used to stopping in the outside lane to drop people off. The lanes are only effective if they are available for the transit to use," said Spillar.

Drivers can use the bus only lane, for up to one block, and only if they are making a right turn.

Nelson Hernandez is the morning barista at Halcyon Coffee Shop and Bar. The bus only lane begins outside the coffee shop. He says losing the parking can hurt business.

"People were coming in and complaining for a while," Hernandez said. But, he sees the benefit of more public transportation. "You win some by having the bus lane but you lose the parking," he said.

Downtown drivers have mixed reactions.

"Traffic downtown is bad enough but without condensing it by one lane for buses that don't seem to be widely used," said Jennifer Guthrie.

"I'm all for it. I think $500 is steep but don't park there. We're too car oriented in this town," said Dick Clark who works downtown.

"It's ridiculous. We have a traffic problem and civic engineering is not up to par," said Jennifer Collora.

More buses will be using Guadlupe and Lavaca when MetroRapid service starts Sunday.

"It's change so not everyone is thrilled with the changes but as it starts to operate people will understand the benefits," said Spillar.

Drivers will get warning tickets for the next month before citations are handed out. The $500 fine is in the city's highest tier of parking fines right up there with parking in a handicap space illegally.

If drivers are caught cruising down the bus only lane the fine costs around $200.

For more on CapMetro's MetroRapid service click here.

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