Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Metro Transit Buses Get Security Camera Upgrade

Dozens of buses around the metro area will be getting security camera upgrades in the coming months, according to Metro Transit officials.

Cameras on 167 buses will be retrofitted with digital, multi-camera systems on board. The new system also will be added to another 11 new buses, officials said.

Currently, all Metro Transit buses on have camera systems, according to Metro Transit Spokesman Bob Gibbons.

But some of that original equipment is old and "from a much more primitive technology," Gibbons said.

The older, VHS tape system will be replaced with a multi-camera, DVD system that will be able to record all the cameras simultaneously in color. Each bus has between 5 and 6 cameras on board, recording images and sound from multiple angles and in color.

Gibbons said the upgraded system will have storage space on board the buses -- rather than at a centralized location -- and will be able to record for 30 days. Under the older system, the images recorded over themselves every 8 or 9 hours, Gibbons said.

"It's sort of like having an officer on board every bus, but done much more affordably and on an around-the-clock basis," Gibbons said. "Drivers like to have the cameras on board. And customers -- the well-behaving customers --like to have the camera systems on board as well."

Gibbons said the camera systems for each bus cost $4,800.

Metro Transit began retrofitting its fleet in 2007, and 240 have already been installed.

Vital Safety Equipment Removed from Buses

The Public Transport Authority sent buses to be used in Geraldton with closed circuit surveillance systems removed, it has been claimed.

The allegations brought an extraordinary response from the minister responsible for the state's public transport system, who warned an open hearing that any publicity they generated could tip off mischief makers.

Seven buses were sent to Geraldton after the PTA took over running services in the town, but they each had closed circuit television cameras removed, a Legislative Council committee heard in Perth yesterday.

The cameras are used to record activity on the bus, and their contents are later downloaded by the PTA.

Labor transport spokesman Ken Travers said the camera casings were intact but did not hold any equipment.

PTA chief executive Reece Waldock told the hearing he was unaware the cameras had been removed, but it was possible the Geraldton depot, which the authority recently took over, did not have the technology to download any CCTV footage.

"You're better informed than I am," he told Mr Travers.

The claims brought a warning from transport minister Simon O'Brien, who said the committee and others present should not "jump to conclusions".

"It can sometimes send a very bad message if there's comment put out publicly about cameras not on buses," he said.

He defended the PTA, saying it did not remove security equipment "for the hell of it".

The committee heard there had been a surge in anti-social incidents on buses. Instances of swearing, spitting, standing on seats, smoking and littering had more than doubled in the past financial year, with 1228 recorded.

Mr Waldock said incidents of rocks being thrown at buses increased 30 per cent in the past two years "and certainly that (increase) has been maintained" this year.

He also hinted different types of buses could be seen on Perth streets as the popularity of this form of transport continued to grow.

Articulated "rail-type" buses, popular in Europe, were a real possibility on busy routes, while there a slight chance smaller buses could be used as feeders to railway stations.

However, the use of feeder buses was growing in popularity, with more than 60 per cent of commuters using Murdoch train station arriving that way.

Free travel for pensioners and seniors had also seen an 80 per cent increase in those users on off-peak services, while increases in parking costs in the CBD were also likely to lead to increasing patronage, furthering the cause of maintaining larger vehicles.

"We've got to be very careful, we don't want to undersize our fleet," Mr Waldock said.

About half the cost of running a bus was in the driver's wages, so more smaller buses could actually lead to greater expense, he said