Tuesday, May 23, 2006

OC to Monitor Buses Via Video

O.C. to Monitor Buses Via Video
Officials hope the $900,000 program, equipping 82 vehicles, will reduce vandalism, thefts, assaults and injury claims.
By David Reyes, Times Staff WriterMay 23, 2006

By next spring, at least 10% of Orange County's buses will be equipped with cameras that will monitor passengers and serve as a digital watchdog against crime. Each of the buses will be equipped with seven cameras — two outside, five inside. The $900,000 program was approved Monday.

"No criminals like their picture taken," said Art Brown, chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority and a former sheriff's deputy.The new system, which will also provide audio recordings, will offer the transit agency visual evidence of assaults, robberies and collisions, and even monitor driver and passenger behavior.Funding for the program came in part from the Department of Homeland Security because of concern about threats on mass transit.

The program was also prompted by a 2003 incident on a paratransit bus, OCTA officials said. A contract bus driver was arrested after two mentally and physically disabled women were sexually assaulted. The man was later convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.Eighty-two transit buses will be outfitted with camera systems at a cost of about $11,000 each. OCTA will join other transit agencies in Southern California with similar video surveillance programs.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began installing cameras on buses 10 years ago. It now has video cameras on 2,500 buses, an MTA spokesman said.Orange County has held off installing cameras because it didn't want to put them on older, soon-to-be-retired diesel buses, an OCTA spokesman said.The equipment will be installed on 82 new buses, including 32 small buses for disabled riders, and 50 larger buses as they join OCTA's fleet.

According to an OCTA survey of other transit agencies, use of video cameras has reduced graffiti and injury claims and helped with accident investigations and passenger complaints.Cameras also can reduce costs related to removing graffiti. The authority spends more than $200,000 fighting graffiti. Currently, drivers cannot leave their seats, even if they suspect that vandals are using Sharpies or etching their names or gang insignias. Cameras will record such criminal activity, OCTA officials said.Several OCTA directors raised privacy concerns at Monday's meeting. Some said the new systems warranted a notice to passengers of the recording.Supervisor Lou Correa said there needed to be a balance "of the public's right to privacy and public safety." Supervisor Chris Norby questioned the effectiveness of the camera system."I think our passengers are already very safe, and I am concerned about the proliferation of cameras," he said.

The system is computerized so that if a bus is in a collision or incident, the driver can push a button on the dash and the incident is "tagged.""That allows us to visually save videotape two minutes before and two minutes after the incident on the computer's hard drive," said Allen Pierce, OCTA's maintenance manager.As each bus goes to the station at night to refuel, the video is automatically saved to the computer for 10 days, he said.

OCTA Bus Camera Project