Tuesday, August 26, 2008

St. Louis Metro Installs Digital Video Surveillance System on Demand Response Vehicles

Looking to install onboard surveillance camera systems on 50 new Call-A-Ride paratransit vans, the Metro transit agency in St. Louis, Missouri has awarded an approximately $250,000 sole-source contract to Safety Vision, a provider of mobile digital video solutions. Eligible riders in the St. Louis area will now get curb-to-curb public transportation from the agency’s Call-A-Ride program.

The new contract was approved by the agency in June 2008 and was partially funded by a Department of Homeland Security Grant. Installation is scheduled to occur in two shifts: the first 25 vehicles this month, the second 25 in October. For 11 years, Safety Vision, a 16-year veteran of the mobile surveillance industry, has supported Metro’s transit security efforts.

Each new Call-A-Ride vehicle will be outfitted with four mobile-rated security cameras, including microphones, impact sensors, and the Safety Vision RoadRecorder 6000 PRO mobile digital video recorder (MDVR). Apart from recording video, audio, and system health data in a secure, encrypted MPEG4 format, the MDVR also supports up to 10 interior and exterior cameras. The PRO features more camera frames per second, tripled storage capacity, wireless connectivity, and streamlined data management and builds on earlier generations in the RoadRecorder series.

The Safety Vision onboard camera systems are also being used by transit authorities in other major metropolitan areas including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Illinois, and Portland, Oregon to increase operator safety, enhance public security, mitigate transit authorities’ risk, and strengthen criminal prosecutors’ cases.

Safety Vision Account Executive John Major says, “We’ve installed camera systems on hundreds of Metro’s transit buses and light-rail vehicles. As we move into the paratransit vans, we’re extending our mobile safety net to encompass all of Metro’s ridership, driver/operators, and rolling assets. This project is also of note as one of our largest installations of security cameras in a paratransit fleet.”

He continued, “Along with Broward County Transit in Florida, St. Louis Metro is one of our oldest transit customers. We’ve shared their longstanding commitment to improving the safety and security of their personnel and the public, and we’ve learned together over the years. The Safety Vision team takes pains to ask the right questions of these and other transit customers, and to listen carefully to their answers. Our in-house engineering staff then designs solutions according to customer input, yielding the most technologically advanced yet user friendly systems available today and into the future.”

Searches Not Required for Vancouver Translink Security - Doug Kelsey

The public needs to know that there are no significant threats currently indicated toward the transit system that would justify random searches.

On principle, any security measure must be used strategically so as not to send confusing messages. For example, the public should reasonably expect something like random searches to be used as a way to address specific issues, such as the illegal transport of alcohol to events like the Festival of Lights.

That said, SkyTrain, West Coast Express and TransLink are already taking measures to ensure the security of the public. We initiated discussions with the federal government for funding for these measures, for which Ottawa is investing more than $17 million with us on a 3:1 cost-sharing basis. We took the lead in setting up a national transit intelligence-sharing system, and have had significant outside review of our security measures. On the morning of the London terrorist attacks in 2005, we were well-informed.

Our excellent front-line staff receive training in awareness of suspicious activity and anything else that "just doesn't seem right." Changing the special provincial constables to a fully constituted police force was another measure aimed at enhancing security. In addition, as was reported by Global TV recently, we have just completed a full upgrade of our video surveillance system from analog to high-quality digital recording.

SkyTrain and West Coast Express stations are undergoing continuing upgrades, with lighting on Expo Line stations being improved to the levels at Millennium Line stations, and more retail presence in and around stations, thus providing for more "eyes and ears" on the system. The planned expansion of Broadway and Main Street stations also will go a long way towards supporting security goals. We anticipate that more stations will be redeveloped in the future.

The public is encouraged to become additional "eyes and ears" by picking up the security phone at SkyTrain stations or using the intercom or "yellow strip" silent alarm in each SkyTrain vehicle. Messages encouraging the public to "see it -- say it" are already appearing at SkyTrain stations, and we will soon be rolling out other security-related measures.

At this time, there is no cause to adopt random searches of our customers, as there is no circumstance or threat level that warrants such intrusive measures. The cost of inconveniencing the public and needlessly raising the fear level would far outweigh any security benefit.

Doug Kelsey is the CEO of BC Rapid Transit Co. (SkyTrain and West Coast Express).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Monroe Public Schools Adds Digital Bus Surveillance

The fleet of buses in the Monroe Public School District is getting an expensive upgrade aimed at keeping student riders safer.

The interim director of transportation for Monroe Public Schools has an up-close view inside district school buses, literally, at his fingertips.

Video is taken from a high-tech digital camera system that was installed on one of the buses at the end of the school year. It gives a view of both the students and the driver.

Interim Director Jerry Oley explains, "This is the mile-per-hour on top showing how fast he's driving that bus... and that he's applied his breaks."

Oley is heading up a major project taking place this summer: two cameras are being installed on all 64-buses -- one in the front and one in the back. "It also views all the way forward," he says, "The nice thing about these cameras is that they have built in audio, so they're able to pick up all voices and communication throughout the entire bus anytime, regardless of where they're sitting."

If an incident happens on the bus the driver has the option to press a button, marking it on the hard drive, which can become an important safeguard for everyone. "It allows us to go back and review incidents that occur on our bus, whether a driver brings it to our attention or a parent brings it to our attention. It will allow us to review the exact details of what occurred."

He expects the camera systems to improve behavior of students on the bus while also easing parents' minds. "This will give us full accurate information on how the driver handled their bus," he says, "how they handled their children and how their children were dropped off at the end of the day."

The system costs the district nearly $138,000, but the school board believes the reduction in liability and increased safety make it an invaluable addition.

School Bus Video Cameras Add Safety Factor in Jackson County

How much money should be spent on school safety? It's a question best asked before there is a safety problem, or a school tragedy. And that is what should be kept in mind regarding the $286,400 recently spent to upgrade the video camera systems on Jackson-Madison County school buses. We think it is a good investment in school safety.

The new digital camera systems should give parents and students an added sense of security when children are riding school buses. No child should feel unsafe on a school bus. Nor should parents have to worry about school bus behavior.

The majority of buses have had video cameras for several years. But the previous system used old-fashioned video cassette tapes, had only one camera, and the system was maintenance intensive.

The new digital system includes three video cameras and sound recording. The cameras also record in the dark, which will aid early morning bus runs during the winter as well as when buses are used during evening hours to transport students to sanctioned school events. The digital system also should be more reliable. It can keep a record for 30 days and has security features that restrict who can access the recordings.

Jackson-Madison County school buses do not have bus monitors. That would be our preference when it comes to maintaining order and safety on school buses. But consider that cost. It could easily reach a half-million dollars a year if monitors were paid minimum wage and rode the buses four hours each school day.

With high gas prices, school bus ridership is expected to increase this school year as parents try to cut back on driving. Buses likely will have more students, and that could lead to more discipline problems. Drivers have their hands full watching traffic and navigating their routes. The extra cameras should make an impression on student bus riders that they aren't likely to get away with breaking school bus safety rules.

When students do get out of line, the evidence of their misbehavior should be solid. Then it will be up to school officials to enforce the bus safety rules quickly and thoroughly. Student bus riders and their parents need to understand that they will be held accountable for student behavior on school buses. It's a small price to pay for student safety.

Photo Enforcement Catches Phoenix Bus Drivers Running Red Lights

Light after light, at intersections all across the Valley, mass transit bus drivers are caught on camera blowing through intersections where the lights are clearly red.

At 32nd Street and McDowell Road in Phoenix, the photo enforcement camera video captured a bus driver slamming on the brakes too late, as the light is red long before the bus enters the intersection.

A closer look shows the bus nearly hitting a pickup truck turning left, with pedestrians about to enter the crosswalk.

At 19th and Northern avenues in Phoenix, the cameras flash as a bus runs the red light right in front of a police officer.

All of these buses are owned by the City of Phoenix.

In the last two years, bus drivers in the Valley have been hit with at least 27 red light citations, a small number on paper but still "not acceptable," said Mike Nevarez with the City of Phoenix Public Transit Department.

Nevarez said drivers are contractors who work for private companies, and when the city gets a ticket, the ticket is given to that private company who then reassigns it to the driver.

"It's a performance indicator," Nevarez said. "We want to make sure they are aware of the tickets, that they take care of them and they respond to them in a timely fashion."

While the City of Phoenix keeps track of the citations, the Regional Public Transportation Authority, the Valley's second-largest provider of mass transportation, does not.

"Running a red light is a major safety violation, plus it's illegal," said Jim Wright with RPTA.

While it's a major violation, RPTA has no idea how many drivers have received red light violations.

That's because RPTA receives the ticket and then turns it over to a private contractor, keeping no record of the violation.

But the ABC15 Investigators observed more than just red light running.

Over the past several weeks, we watched as buses sped down the interstate.

We set our cruise control to the posted speed limit and watched as the crowded buses blew right by us.

"Certainly its not acceptable," Nevarez said. "Buses can't normally even attain that speed."

Not every bus we observed was flying by.

We also used radar to clock the drivers, some of whom waved at our cameras as they passed.

Veolia Transportation, the company that supplies the majority of bus drivers in the Valley, said safety is its top priority and that citations are unacceptable.

The company said drivers that receive a single ticket are retrained, and if there are additional offenses they are terminated.

Halifax Metro Transit Looking at Bus Cameras to Beef Up Security

THERE isn’t much argument today with the idea that we need more buses and trains and more people using them. This makes sense as a transportation policy, as an environmental strategy and as a way of lowering the cost of living.

But we have to make buses safer, too – for the hardworking people who drive them and for passengers.

The need for better security was driven home in Halifax this week when a female Metro Transit driver was sexually assaulted by a passenger on the Route 20 bus early Wednesday.

Police are looking for a man who got on the bus at the corner of Hebridean Drive and St. Pauls Avenue in Herring Cove at about 12:10 a.m. and who got off at Joseph Howe Drive. The suspect is described as white, 50ish, and weighing about 150 pounds. But if the bus had had a security camera, police would have better information with which to identify him. And maybe a camera would have deterred the assailant and protected the driver from this ugly and traumatic violation.

So Dan Macdonald, president of local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, is right on the mark in urging Metro Transit to speed up the installation of cameras on its buses. Transit had planned to begin installing cameras this year and to have all 200 buses equipped by 2010. Spokeswoman Lori Patterson now says cameras will probably come sooner because of more assaults on drivers.

Quick action on cameras is warranted. And the additional deterrent of some transit security officers, as raised by Mayor Peter Kelly and Cole Harbour Councillor Harry McInroy, should be examined as well.

For the record of assaults is disturbing. In June, a driver was attacked in Dartmouth by men trying to steal transfers. Last year two drivers received head injuries in attacks. A 2007 Saint Mary’s study found 60 per cent of drivers reported being kicked, attacked with a weapon or threatened on the job.

The Halifax assaults reflect a national trend that includes shootings and beatings, prompting the transit workers union to press Parliament for greater on-the-job protection.

B.C. New Democrat MP Peter Julian has responded with a private member’s bill providing stiffer sentences for assaults on on-duty bus and transit operators. The bill allows for sentences of up to 20 years, mirroring Criminal Code penalties aimed at deterring assaults on police officers.

Similar protection for transit drivers is warranted because they are in a vulnerable position and their duties include ensuring the safety of the public, their passengers.

That’s a point emphasized by NDP Leader Jack Layton when he met The Chronicle Herald’s editorial board on the same day we reported the assault on the transit driver on page one.

Penalties "should be the same as if a police officer or emergency worker is assaulted," Mr. Layton said, because "people are particularly vulnerable who serve in these public roles."

Assaults on bus and transit operators "don’t always make the front pages," he said, "and I’m really glad your (story) was on the front page. There’s a lot more of this going on than people realize."

At least there are some good ideas for confronting this menace on several fronts – cameras, security officers and deterrent penalties. So let’s get it done.

Monday, August 04, 2008

New York Bus Lane Camera Dead.

New York: Bus Lane Camera Legislation Dead
State legislature votes down an attempt to install bus lane cameras in New York City.

A New York State Assembly committee last Tuesday killed legislation that would have allowed New York City to install one of Europe's most lucrative forms of photo enforcement. Bus lane enforcement cameras automatically mail a $115 ticket to the owner of any vehicle that momentarily strays into a special lane designated "Bus Only" (view legislation). Despite the potential to issue thousands of citations, Assembly Transportation Committee members voted 14-11 against the proposal, effectively ending its chance for passage in the current session.

Anti-automobile activists from groups such as Transportation Alternatives hoped the committee's chairman, David Gantt (D-Rochester), may have had a change of heart after he introduced red light camera legislation on behalf of a former staff member now lobbying for an upstart photo ticketing company, CMA Consulting. Gantt instead led the effort to defeat the bus lane cameras.

This is the second major defeat for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, coming after the legislature's April rejection of his signature congestion tax proposal. Other jurisdictions throughout the state have tried to follow Bloomberg's path, equally without success. Nassau County, for example, has a $106 million budget deficit and is begging the legislature to adopt legislation allowing the installation of red light cameras that would generate $15 million in revenue. Suffolk County also hopes to close its $150 million budget gap with a combination of red light cameras and new fees on conventional speeding tickets. Current law only allows the use of red light cameras in New York City.

Greyhound Considering Extra Security Measures after Beheading Incident

OTTAWA -- A day after a man was beheaded in a gruesome attack on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba, Eric Wesley, a spokesman for the company, said it would be next to impossible to have airport-style safety precautions - like metal detectors - on rural bus routes.

"The rural nature of our network doesn't allow us to have airport-style security," he said. "It doesn't make it practical for us to do that."

The Greyhound spokesman said the company already had been working with Transport Canada to implement extra security measures for intercity buses.

That was before the horrific incident Wednesday night that saw a passenger on a bus travelling near Portage la Prairie, Man., stab and behead another man in an apparently random attack.

A suspect was arrested by police.

The idea of putting surveillance cameras on the buses is a possibility Greyhound will continue to look at, the spokesman said.

Greyhound drivers, although they travel alone, are trained to identify potentially violent or suspicious passengers and call police as soon as possible.

Incidents involving violent passengers usually involve drug- or alcohol-fuelled behaviour, Mr. Wesley said.

"Our drivers are trained to provide the safest travel for all our passengers and every time an incident occurs they know to pull the bus over and call 911," he said.

RCMP Sgt. Steve Colwell had high praise Thursday for the driver and remaining passengers on the bus.

"The way they reacted was extraordinary," Sgt. Colwell said.

"They were very brave. They reacted swiftly, calmly in exiting the bus and as a result, nobody else was injured."

There are also security systems on buses that enable drivers to contact the Greyhound operations office quickly.

Jim Higgs, a local president of the union that represents Greyhound bus drivers, said concealed weapons pose a problem for drivers.

"Without security measures like at an airport, there is no way in the world that we could've prevented this," he said from Calgary.

"When someone is carrying a concealed weapon, there is not much you can do."

Greyhound drivers have complained about personal safety issues in the past - but never about an incident like this one, Mr. Higgs said.

"The TV was probably on. People were listening to the video being played. It would've been a fairly quiet and relaxed atmosphere," he said. "There is no way the passengers or the driver would've expected something like this to happen. This is the scary part of it all."

Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day expressed his shock about the "horrific" attack, but cautioned Canadians to remember that this was an isolated incident.

"Let's keep in mind that this as bizarre and tragic as it is, is extremely rare," he told reporters in Levis, Que., on Thursday.

"Certainly the perfect nature of it is probably one of a kind in Canadian history."

Even so, Mr. Day said his department will review possible security measures.

He added that a nationwide knife-registry -- supposedly the weapon supposedly used in the incident -- was unlikely.

"We have legal provisions in place now to deal with crimes . . . and I wouldn't even want to open up a discussion about possibly registering the millions of knives dealing with kitchen purposes alone let alone hunting purposes."

FACTBOX: Violent incidents involving buses

Feb. 17, 2007 - A Greyhound bus was driving through Lloydminster, Alta., when someone threw something at the bus carrying 52 passengers. The bus driver pulled over and got out of the bus, and was then attacked by a group of men. RCMP charged six men with assault.

Dec. 23, 2000 - A man grabs the wheel of a Greyhound bus travelling near Thunder Bay, Ont., causing the bus to swerve and land in a ditch. All 32 passengers aboard were injured, and a 74-year-old woman later died of her injuries.

March 7, 2000 - A pregnant woman was attacked on a Greyhound bus travelling through London, Ont. Police said she did not know her attacker. The woman suffered injuries to her arms.

April 7, 1989 - A gunman of Lebanese descent hijacked a Greyhound bus en route to New York and forced it to drive to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. The man claimed to be a member of the Lebanese Liberation Front and demanded that Syrian forces withdraw from Lebanon. The incident ended peacefully.