Monday, November 08, 2010

Free School Bus Camera Systems Offered

WESTERLY - A new school bus camera system could reduce the number of motorists who pass buses illegally at stops - and bring the town as much as $129,600 in estimated revenue, if installed on eight buses.

Representatives of SmartBus Live, a Providence-based private surveillance firm, offered their no-cost services to the Westerly School Committee on Wednesday night. The cameras are already used by four Rhode Island school districts.

Alfred A. Cardi, the company's president and general manager, said the externally mounted cameras generate a live feed monitored by Smart- Bus Live employees in Providence. A 2008 law allows for surveillance cameras to be mounted on school buses for the purpose of traffic management, he said.

"We have a panoramic, 180-degree view on the left side of the bus," Cardi told the school committee. "There are 7 cameras equipped on the outside of the bus - two of them just get the panoramic view, and five of them are zoomed-in on lanes of traffic and can actually read plates of cars driving 35 to 40 mph."

If a car passes a bus collecting students, company employees can date stamp the footage and generate an evidence package that's handed over to local police. Used to create a traffic citation, the package typically includes footage of the violation and a signed affidavit by the employee who witnessed it.

"In essence, we're the vendor," Cardi said. "We don't issue tickets, we just provide evidence to law enforcement ... We monitor live. These are not still photos. These are actually people witnessing [it], similar to a peace officer saying, "I witnessed this occurrence live."

At present, school bus drivers must note a car's description and its license plate number, and fill-out a lengthy report in order for a citation to be generated.

"Bus drivers love it," Cardi said of the camera system. "We took a big responsibility off of them having to, besides watch traffic, actually catch violators."

The cameras would be installed and maintained free of charge for the school district.

"We're able to provide all the equipment at no cost," Cardi said. "We service it, we maintain it, we adjust it, we do our own road analysis ... [There's] really no effort on the part of the school system other than the approval to go forward."

Seventy-five percent of revenues from a typical, $300 civil fine would go to the company, while 12.5 percent would go to the state and 12.5 percent would go to the town of Westerly - not the school district.

"I'm sure the Town Council would appreciate it, but I don't see the benefit financially for us to do it," remarked school committee member Louis Sposato Jr.

In 2007, Cardi said 131 bus-passing violations were issued in Rhode Island that generated $15,481 in revenue for the state. In 2009, after the law change, the company issued 2,187 violations from 25 buses using SmartBus Live and generated net revenues of $164,025, he said.

All of the traffic violations are handled administratively by the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. The company currently sees about 1.2 tickets per bus per day, while about 2 to 3 percent of cases generated by SmartBus Live are dismissed, Cardi noted.

"Many people have lost their licenses as a result of it," he added. "There have been some repeat offenders. They've lost their licenses for 90 days, and some of them were fined a little more heavily."

Motorists who receive violations would also have access to the footage collected by bus cameras.

"The person getting the citation actually has a link to our website where they can go in with their registration and actually see their vehicle passing the school bus, and they can determine if they want to contest that or if they want to pay the fine," Cardi said.

Cardi said internal cameras could also be placed on buses for school officials to monitor via a customized website, though officials said 36 of 40 district-owned school buses already have them. Footage recorded by SmartBus Live, however, is archived for later review.

While no votes were taken Wednesday night, Westerly Public School Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said he plans to bring a recommendation on SmartBus Live to the school committee.

Three new school committee members, elected Tuesday, are scheduled to be sworn-in Nov. 15 at Town Hall at 7 p.m.