Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ACS-Xerox Develops School Bus Stop Arm System for Manitoba Schools

Officials in some Manitoba school divisions are pushing for the province to install new, technologically-savvy cameras on school buses to snare motorists who fail to stop when the vehicles are picking up or dropping off children.

A study done by the Seven Oaks School Division over 16 days in June showed that 65 drivers didn't stop for school buses that had their stop lights and boom arms engaged.

Now, division officials and those in the Interlake School Division say that data shows it's time for a crackdown to safeguard school kids.

"It's a very scary thing, that's what it boils down to," said Ken Krulicki, transportation director of the Interlake division. "When you're talking about kids and kids' lives, it really hits home.

'Kids expect and parents expect that children are safe crossing the road.'-Brian O' Leary
"Our fear is that at some point, if we don't get the word out and people don't start to respect the whole process, we're going to end up with a fatality."

"It's a real concern. I think that when we put the stop sign out we expect the traffic will stop. And kids expect, and parents expect, that children are safe crossing the road," said Seven Oaks division superintendent Brian O' Leary.

It gets worse from a driver's perspective, he suggested.

"Our drivers are reporting 40 to 50 reports a month to the City of Winnipeg police on motorist violations," O' Leary said.

O' Leary said school officials have come up with a solution by working with the same U.S. company that owns and maintains red-light cameras and mobile photo-radar in Winnipeg.

Dallas-based ACS has developed a camera system called CrossSafe that is installed on the front of school buses.

The cameras, which record video continuously when the stop boom arm is deployed, are meant to be turned over to police so they can issue tickets.

Passing a stopped school bus with its signals engaged carries a $655 fine in Manitoba.

The company says the video is watermarked with time, date, GPS coordinates and other information needed for proving the violation. The bus driver simply notes the time of the violation and gives investigators the information.

Jon Butcher of ACS helped design the cameras and said five Canadian school divisions have used them in pilot projects.

There is no cost to the school division to have the cameras installed, according to Butcher.

"We think that we can recoup our costs possibly as a percentage of the fines that are paid. So what we can do is eliminate the capital costs for clients," Butcher, a former police officer said.

"In this day and age, capital funding is not exactly available [for school divisions]," he said.

The company also said in a news release regarding the system that school divisions and districts could share in the revenue generated by tickets.

"As part of the program, school districts can receive rebates from the fines collected from the offenses, which can be used to invest in current or new student safety programs," the company said.

But O' Leary said what's been confusing is how to get the provincial government's attention and get the cameras installed.

"It's actually frustrating because you don't know exactly what process you should follow through to get this process implemented," he said.

"But once this is in place, if we are correct in our assumptions, it'll raise the profile so much that every driver will be aware that it's just not a good idea to pass a bus when it's loading or unloading.

"And that's our ultimate goal," O' Leary said.