Sunday, September 02, 2007

Oahu Transit Using Video CCTV Cameras on City Buses

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

The city is testing the use of security cameras on buses as a way to deter crime and vandalism, officials said yesterday.

The cameras, which have been operating on three city buses for the past few months, are positioned to see what's happening in front of the bus, by the doors and in the passenger cabin, transportation officials said.

A few passengers have complained about feeling watched by the cameras, but if the reaction of riders at a Kailua bus stop yesterday was any indication, most passengers think the cameras are a great idea.

"It's about time. We need a lot more of them," said Patrick Kennedy, who just stepped off a No. 56 bus. "If they put more cameras on board, problems would drop in half."

For now, the city has no active plan to expand the cameras to its fleet of 525 buses and 125 handivans. Instead, officials at O'ahu Transit Services, which runs the bus operation for the city, said the cameras were being tested mostly for their technical capabilities.

The cameras were installed at no cost to the city by manufacturers who would like officials to buy their security systems, said Roger Morton, OTS president.

The city flirted with security cameras on buses about 10 years ago, but since then there has been a quantum leap in the technology, Morton said.

What's more, transportation security has become a much higher priority nationally in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and other worldwide acts of terrorism, including the bombing of London trains and buses in 2005.

Because of that, the use of security camera systems on public transit systems has been growing nationally. Municipal bus systems in San Francisco, Cleveland and elsewhere rely on video cameras mounted on bus ceilings to record passenger activity. Public transit systems in Philadelphia, Chicago and Sacramento, Calif., use video surveillance cameras inside buses to help prevent fraudulent claims and reduce incidents of passenger harassment and vandalism.

A recent survey of bus system operators around the country found that security cameras were second only to better radio communication devices on a list of needed capital improvements, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

OTS officials do not actively monitor the digitally recorded images from the cameras, but could inspect them if an incident was reported, Morton said.

"We could capture certain things on camera, but their use raises a lot of questions and policy issues," Morton said. While some riders have complained about feeling watched by the cameras, others say they feel more secure on the bus, he said.

"I'm all in favor of them. What's not to like?" said Honolulu bus rider Ann Ruby. "I've seen a lot of crummy things on the bus over the years, and I think the cameras would really help."

Morton said crime on Honolulu buses is relatively rare, with about 25 to 30 assault cases reported a year, many of them involving fights between two passengers.

Kennedy and Ruby said the problems go beyond violence.

"There's just so much rudeness. You've got people shouting and bumping into one another without a care. The drivers can't do anything about it, but maybe people would act differently if they knew they were being watched," Ruby said.

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