Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cost Benefit Analysis of Transit Bus Cameras

Most transit agencies now realize the positive impact of using video surveillance technology in their vehicles. These cameras aid in protecting and reassuring the passengers' safety and comfort by reducing vandalism and other criminal activity. Also, in today's litigious society, they can reduce the liability of the transit agencies, municipalities and their respective insurance companies from false and frivolous lawsuits.

While the benefits of this technology are real, there are substantial costs involved in equipping an entire fleet with a quality surveillance system. With shrinking transit budgets, the question that must be asked is: do the benefits outweigh the costs? In order to answer this we must first consider all costs that will be incurred (present and future), such as purchase price, added inventory, installation, operational and maintenance costs.

At Waukesha Metro we are currently on a test pilot program utilizing a digital video recorder (DVR) with six cameras. We had been considering cameras for some time, therefore when a vendor offered to let us try their unit free of charge; we saw it as an opportunity that was too good to pass up. The demo system is installed in one of our 2004 Gillig low floor buses. In its first year of operation it has been an extremely reliable system as we have not experienced a single issue with the DVR or cameras.

All six cameras on our pilot bus are color cameras and are aimed at critical vantage points such as entrance door (which covers the wheelchair ramp and farebox), the right front windshield (covering the street and curb), the exit door and three other interior locations that allow us to view all of the passenger seats in the bus including the two designated wheelchair places. The cameras at the entrance and exit doors are also equipped with audio microphones.

The digital hard drive is a small and compact unit which is located in a locked box behind the driver's compartment. By having the recorder locked, it is guarded against theft and vandalism, and equally as important, it is also protected from being turned off or otherwise tampered with.

Most camera system vendors are willing to let a potential customer demo their system prior to making the decision to purchase. I would suggest to any agency that is considering the purchase of cameras, interview a minimum of four vendors. Then, based on established criteria, i.e. price, options, timing, etc., pick two vendors to install pilot systems into separate buses for a set amount of time. This will allow an agency to see first-hand how well each system performs on their streets and in their specific conditions. Along with being able to evaluate each system's performance and reliability, the agency will get a feel of how easy to use each system is with respect to viewing incidents and accidents.

With the installation of a demo system, ask the vendor to include available options. Some of the options that may be available include audio microphones, event markers, color cameras, sensors which record braking, speed of vehicle, flashers, turn signals, lights, etc. By including these options, it becomes clearer over time which options are absolutely necessary, and which ones are not. When faced with tight budgets, this knowledge can be critical.

The initial cost of a six-camera system can vary between $3,500 to $6,500 per bus depending on manufacturer and options. In addition to the initial cost, inventory expenses will also need to be considered. These systems generally come with a one-year warranty, therefore stocking up on spare parts may not be needed right away, but will eventually need to be purchased at some time. A spare hard drive allows the user to keep the bus in service by swapping out a hard drive with a spare unit. The cost of a hard drive for our system is approximately $1,200. Our vendor recommends a 10 to 20 percent spare ratio on hard drives, with a minimum of two spares for smaller properties. Other recommended spare parts include microphones, cameras, and DVRs. A 2 percent spare ratio on these items is adequate.

There are ways to reduce costs. Some transit companies opt for fewer cameras per bus. Instead of six cameras, they may use three or four. This is a matter of preference and available monies. It is possible to cover the entire interior of the bus with as little as four cameras, but keep in mind, with less cameras come less detailed camera angles. Still, four cameras are definitely better than none.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, most, if not all camera systems are available with options, and just like when purchasing a new vehicle the more options that are included, the more the price goes up. Therefore, limiting options to only what is necessary will save money.

We have decided to do our own installation on any units that we purchase in the future as a way to save money. Our vendor has indicated that it would be willing to work with us when we install our first system at Waukesha Metro, and would continue to support us as our service technicians install any remaining systems. By installing the systems ourselves, we're told we can anticipate a savings of approximately 10 to 15 percent per bus off the normal cost of installation. Unfortunately, this scenario may not be possible for all transit agencies. In part it will depend on how many camera systems are being purchased, as well as whether or not the time and personnel required are available to devote to this type of campaign.

I mentioned maintenance costs as another consideration for overall costs. So far, maintenance costs on our system at Waukesha Metro have been minimal. Our pilot system has been in operation for a relatively short time (about 14 months). As one would expect, we shouldn't be experiencing many problems with a system this new.

Low maintenance costs can also be attributed to the fact that the system has very few moving parts, and the entire unit (components and wiring) is secured inside the vehicle, thus eliminating exposure to the outside elements. The durability of these units now means more reliability and less maintenance.

There is not a recommended scheduled maintenance program for these systems per se, however, like any computer, fragmentation may occur over time making the recorder work harder to write the drive. Cleaning this up may be necessary from time to time.

Operational costs on the other hand can add up quickly depending upon circumstances. Searching hard drives for incidents can be tedious and time consuming. On average, a person can expect to spend a minimum of 30 minutes removing the hard drive, searching, locating and viewing the desired footage on a computer, and finally, saving the material properly. Depending upon the circumstances surrounding the incident, this time could increase dramatically if copies are needed for insurance agencies or police departments, or if the exact date and time of the incident that is being searched for is not known.

Donald Jans, director of operations at Waukesha Metro agrees that it can be time consuming and tedious when searching and viewing digital recordings but also believes that it is worth the time and effort based on the benefits of reducing or eliminating fraudulent claims and criminal behavior on public transportation. "Obviously, searching for an incident on the hard drive is easier when the exact date and time of the incident is known. If an incident has been marked — that is, if the operator pushed the incident button, the footage will be automatically saved and locked five minutes prior to and five minutes after," states Jans.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case. There can be times for instance, when a passenger calls in a day or two after the fact. He or she may claim an injury while riding a bus, due to a slip or fall. Most times it will be blamed on the operator for taking off too fast, stopping too hard or perhaps turning too sharply. Rarely will the passenger know the exact time and sometimes they're even unsure of the date. It's in these cases when searching footage becomes time consuming. "I am able to speed up the viewing speed, but if I go too fast, I run the risk of missing the incident entirely," explains Jans. "Generally, I'll view the video at two to three times the speed of the actual video." This means if it is necessary to view four hours of footage, approximately one and a half to two hours will need to be allotted for watching the video.

Because of the time and energy that will be expended in this area, as well as the importance of following proper procedures when viewing or saving material, it is important to establish guidelines and policies for an organization. Questions will need to be answered such as: Who will determine when a hard drive is to be removed? Who will be the primary person viewing incidents? How and where will the footage be saved? Also, with more camera systems in service, more data will need to be viewed and saved. This can create another dilemma for the user. It is not out of the question to say not only will a computer need to be specifically designated for viewing and saving material, it is very likely this could become a large portion of a person's time as well.

Richard Riley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Milwaukee, Wisc., whose union represents approximately 2,100 members, says, "In the past, installing surveillance cameras on buses struck a nerve with operators. Everyone felt as though "big brother" would be watching every move that they made while driving their buses." But, while there is still concern regarding the use of cameras for disciplinary purposes, Riley states that the operators of his union have had a "shift in their philosophy." He goes on to say that "in larger cities where assaults to passengers and operators can occur more frequently, union members now appreciate the added security." It also helps to ease the minds of operators, given the fact that normal positioning of the cameras in a typical installation do not aim directly at the operators. In fact, unless an operator leaves his or her seat, the person viewing the recorded material will not know who is driving the bus.

Many operators believe cameras are a good tool that can be used to help solve crimes that occur on buses, but even more importantly, they believe that the cameras serve as a deterrent to criminal behavior which creates a more positive and safe work environment for themselves, while also providing the passengers a more relaxed riding experience. When people know their actions are being recorded, more often than not, their behavior improves.

Like the advancements made in the mind-sets of union members, there have been advancements made in the electronic surveillance industry as well. Cameras and recorders are not only getting smaller, but they are being built with technology that will someday, in the not too distant future, allow police or dispatchers to see live streaming video from inside any vehicle that is equipped with a system. In fact, with the use of wireless technology (Wi-Fi), this is already possible with some manufacturers. This type of technology is intriguing, but is it really something that we need?

In our post 9-11 era, there has been an increase around the world of terrorist activity aboard buses, subways and trains, and so this type of wireless technology could be a helpful tool for law enforcement, allowing them to identify exactly who the "bad guy" is, where he is seated or even perhaps to locate a bomb that has been planted inside the vehicle. While terrorism alerts have heightened recently, this type of situation is still an extremely rare occurrence; therefore most transit agencies would not reap the benefits of this added cost. But, benefits are being seen in the reduction and settlement of insurance claims.

Nancy Kreutzman, executive director of Transit Mutual Insurance of Wisconsin, likes the idea of cameras on public buses and states that "approximately half of the transit agencies that TMI insures operate surveillance cameras in their fleet." With the cost of an insurance claim averaging around $3,000, Kreutzman says a system can virtually pay for itself with the elimination of one fraudulent claim. And there are fraudulent claims.

Vinny Licciardi, a field service technician for Verint Camera Systems, tells the story of an attempted fraudulent claim in a city that had just recently installed surveillance cameras on its buses. He states: "As the mechanic was test driving the coach, he rear-ended a car at a red light. After stepping off the bus to exchange information with the driver of the automobile, the mechanic returned to find 10 people sitting on the bus. They all claimed to be on board at the time of the accident. He tried to explain that the bus was out of service. No one on the bus would leave. He then pointed to the cameras and informed everyone on board that the entire incident had been recorded. Immediately, and without a word, all of the supposed passengers exited the coach." As funny as this story is, it is unfortunately a true story that happens in cities all across the United States.

People ask, "Don't you run the risk of having the cameras work against you by proving your guilt?" Yes, it is true that there will be cases where the cameras provide evidence against the transit system, but according to Kreutzman, she doesn't see it as a double-edge sword, because, she says, "even in those cases it provides an insurance company the leverage of knowing whether to take the case to court or to settle outside the courtroom."

As one can see, there are many things that need to be considered when deciding whether or not to install surveillance cameras in transit vehicles. After weighing all of these costs and benefits, it is Waukesha Metro's opinion that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Waukesha Metro continually strives to improve customer service. Installing surveillance cameras on buses is one way we are enhancing the service that we provide to our community and passengers.

Because of the overall satisfaction of our pilot system, we have ordered four more units for our paratransit buses.

It is because of all these benefits that surveillance systems in transit vehicles are growing. In today's world they have become more of a necessity than a luxury. In the very near future, I believe we will be seeing cameras in all transit vehicles. So the next time you board a bus, you may want to smile, because chances are, you will be on camera.

John Peckels is the maintenancedirector at Waukesha Metro Transit.

author: by John Peckels

Friday, September 12, 2008

Milwaukee Bus Video Shows Bus Passengers Robbed and Beaten

MILWAUKEE -- The robbery took place Tuesday when a young woman on the bus refused to allow a boy to take her iPod.

VIDEO: Passenger Beaten, Robbed On Bus

This latest incident has some riders wondering whether there's a security breakdown on the bus. But the transit system says it is anything but.
Last Wednesday it was a bus driver attacked, she was punched in the face by a belligerent passenger who police are still looking for.
Today, police released video of another incident from Tuesday of a boy who appears to be in his teens attacking a young woman for her iPod.
He struggles with her for a while, eventually punching her in the head several times as she screams for help from the bus driver.
He's eventually able to wrestle it away from her. He hit the emergency exit switch to open the doors and runs away.
Regular riders say they'd feel better with more uniformed security on the busses.
“No, I don't feel scared on the bus, it's just a lot of things happen on the bus and they need more security to secure the busses,” bus passenger Raquel Reed said, “because there's too much violence that happens in Milwaukee period.”
Transit officials say the video is proof the system is working.
“We want offenders to know that if they're on the bus and they perform a crime, we got their photo, and they're going to get caught,” said Jackie Janz of Milwaukee County Transit.
But rather than see these now fairly regular video releases as evidence of an increase in crime on the bus, they say, it's evidence of a more effective enforcement.
“There's not an increased crime on the bus. We're just starting to see the police department release videos so they can apprehend the people that did something wrong,” Janz said. “So, we're a reflection of the community. What happens in the community is going to happen on the bus, too. We're not immune to it. But we have great safety measures in place.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Psycho Hammers SEPTA Subway Passenger: Video Footage


By DAVID GAMBACORTAPhiladelphia Daily News
gambacd@phillynews.com 215-854-5994

As the SEPTA subway train rocked forward, a thirty-something guy leaned over near the doorway and gently planted a kiss on the little boy at his side.
When the train neared the Fairmount Avenue stop shortly after midnight on Thursday, the man reached out like an adoring parent and directed the 3- or 4-year-old tyke to an open seat.
Then he flew into a monstrous rage.
Without uttering a word, police said, the unidentified man whipped out a double-claw hammer and began bludgeoning a 20-year-old man who was dozing off in his seat.
For five long minutes, SEPTA surveillance cameras captured the deranged attacker - who was still on the loose late last night- digging his hammer into the man's head and neck.
Through it all, disgusted investigators said, at least 10 passengers stood by and did nothing as the random attack moved from the train to the platform, when the hammer-wielding maniac tried to push his victim down onto the train tracks.
When the beating was finished and the suspect fled with the little boy, the victim staggered back onto the train, bloodied, confused and alone, said Detective Kenneth Roach, of Central Detectives.
And even then, no one tried to help him.
"Somebody should have helped this guy," Roach said. "I understand the [other] guy had a hammer, but they outnumbered him at least 10 to one."
Miraculously, the victim took the subway up to Temple University Hospital, received several staples and sutures and was discharged, Roach said.
The motive remains a mystery.
"I'm baffled," Roach said. "He had no reason to do that. It was unprovoked. The victim was just going home from work, minding his own business, listening to his iPod."
Roach said that the victim, whose name was not released, boarded the subway at City Hall.
The attacker - a bearded, stocky, 5-foot-9-inch black man who wore a yellow shirt and black pants - also got on at City Hall, with a youngster who may or may not be his child.
The victim and the hammer-toting psychopath never exchanged a word or a glance, Roach said.
"According to the victim, there was no contact or verbal discussion," he said. "They didn't even notice each other."
The hammer was hidden in a black-and-yellow book bag that the attacker clutched throughout the short subway ride.
The little boy dashed off the train with the other passengers during the brutal beat-down, but was later seen running back on to recover the book bag. The boy and the suspect are seen on camera leaving together.
Roach described the attacker as "very dangerous" and asked anyone who knows him to contact police at 215-686-3093 or -3094. *

Friday, September 05, 2008

Greensboro Adds Surveillance Cameras to DriveCam

Video Clip

Every move made inside a city bus will soon be recorded. Transportation authority officials are in the process of installing surveillance cameras in all 54 city-owned buses.

Each bus will be equipped with six cameras that record audio and video around the clock. The cameras will be monitored from transit authority administration offices.

"If there was ever an incident on the bus, this camera system would definitely record that," said Kevin Elwood, GTA information specialist.

Over the past year, Greensboro police responded to 162 incidents involving transit authority buses, ranging from fights to drunken passengers.

"We'll be able to provide an additional level of security beyond what we already have," said Elwood.

Riders FOX8 News spoke with said they feel pretty safe on GTA buses, but like the idea of the new precautionary measures.

Money to pay for the system came from federal and state grants, in addition to local contributions. Officials plan to begin installing cameras by spring 2009

FOX8 News

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Orange County Transit Use Homeland Security Funds to Put Cameras on Buses

By next year, about 40% of Orange County's buses will be equipped with cameras to monitor passengers and record onboard incidents.

The cameras, purchased with grant money from the federal Department of Homeland Security beginning two years ago, were intended to serve as a digital watchdog against crime and a deterrent to potential threats.

But officials said that none of the cameras installed on more than 100 buses so far have been used to look for criminal activity -- in part because the images were not monitored live.

A pilot program to allow transit police to monitor the cameras in real time from patrol vehicles is being developed and should be in place later this year, said Orange Country Transportation Authority spokesman Joel Zlotnik. The cameras have been used occasionally for internal review of incidents, such as when passengers fall, Zlotnik said.

Cameras "help strengthen the nation's transportation network against the risks associated with potential terrorist attacks," he said.

"We hope to never encounter an emergency situation, but in the event we do, it's critical to have the strategies in place to respond as quickly as possible," county Supervisor Chris Norby, OCTA chairman, said in a statement on the grant.

OCTA used about $2 million in homeland security money over the last two years to buy cameras. This week, OCTA accepted another grant for about $1.5 million, most of which will go toward putting cameras on 126 more buses. About $100,000 of the grant will be used to support an emergency preparedness exercise and training program.

The money comes from $11.3 million in homeland security funds allotted to Orange and Los Angeles counties for increased bus and rail security, officials said.

The security systems -- six cameras inside buses and one outside -- will be installed on new vehicles as they join OCTA's fleet.

Video is kept indefinitely, and the system is computerized so drivers can push a button and tag an incident if needed, Zlotnik said.

Other local transit systems use different security methods.

Metrolink does not have cameras in trains, but it conducts random bag searches and sometimes uses explosive-sniffing dogs to search cars, spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said.

Security concerns on Metrolink don't typically "rise to the homeland security level," she said.

In Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has cameras on its entire fleet of more than 2,500 buses, many of which were funded with homeland security money, a spokesman said.