Saturday, November 08, 2008

Toronto Transit Commission Warns Passengers About Security Cameras

Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Despite spending tens of millions of dollars on security cameras, assaults and threats against TTC drivers continue to climb.

So transit officials are taking steps to make sure that members of the public know they're being watched. By the end of February, the TTC's entire surface fleet of 2,100 vehicles will have cameras, at a cost of $19.8 million.

"We'll know what you look like, we will arrest you, the police will charge you and we will follow through with the Crown's office to prosecute you," said TTC spokesperson Brad Ross.

He said the cameras, already installed on 1,300 buses, are relatively new and riders may not yet be aware of them. That may help explain why they're not proving to be as much of a deterrent as officials had hoped.

Initiatives aimed at reducing driver assaults and threats have been in progress for a year and a half, yet there were 667 incidents last year, up from 565 two years earlier.

There have been some particularly disturbing incidents in recent weeks, including a recent incident at Ossington station in which a driver's elbow was broken, Ross said."We have close to 5,000 operators and they deserve to come to work and know they will be safe," TTC chair Adam Giambrone said yesterday at a demonstration of the camera systems.

The cameras do help in prosecuting those who commit crimes. TTC video footage has been requested by police 66 times this year.

Four cameras on each bus provide views of the front, rear and middle of the vehicle. Images are kept one to three days, with only police allowed access. The colour shots are of much higher quality than those of typical convenience-store security systems, Giambrone said.

The subway system already has 900 cameras and will have 2,300 by the end of 2011 – enough to give the TTC a picture of each person entering a station. The new Red Rocket subway cars that will be arriving in 2010 will have built-in cameras, but older cars won't be retrofitted.

"We have to take every action necessary to protect our employees," Giambrone said when asked whether the cameras are worth the cost. "This is being done across North America and Europe. Almost every large transit authority is investing in cameras."