Friday, March 11, 2011

Stop Arm Pilot Program to Begin

SEEKONK - A single Seekonk school bus will soon receive a new “violation detection system” after the school committee voted to accept a proposal from SmartBus Live Monday.

The school committee first heard from Daniel Angeli of SmartBus Live on a proposal to make Seekonk part of a Massachusetts pilot program in February. SmartBus Live installs cameras on buses to take photographs of drivers who pass buses illegally. When a school bus comes to a stop to pick up or drop off children it is illegal to pass it.

SmartBus Live has currently been working with school districts in Rhode Island for the last two years. Mr. Angeli said the external camera system offers a 180 degree panoramic view of up to four lanes of traffic. At the SmartBus Live command center, employees monitor the video feed every time a school bus stops. If they see someone illegally passing the bus, that bus is flagged and the information is processed and forwarded to local enforcement who can decide to ticket the individual.

SmartBus Live does not charge the district for any aspect of the service. They make their money through the issuing of tickets. In Rhode Island, 75 percent of the revenue from these tickets goes to the company while 12.5 percent goes to the state and another 12.5 percent to the local municipality.

In Massachusetts, however, legislation has yet to be passed making it legal to use this type of traffic enforcement on school buses, though a proposal is currently pending with the General Court. Mr. Angeli said the camera placed on a Seekonk bus, and another already in place Medford, will be used to gather information about the frequency of motorists passing stopped school buses.

Locally, it’s a pattern of behavior that Seekonk School Department Transportation Director Betsy Frey said she hears about from bus drivers “just about everyday.”

In the end, the school committee voted 4-0 to support the pilot program. School committee member David Abbott was not in attendance for the meeting.

In the event that the pending legislation is approved this session, Mr. Angeli said the company would be eyeing a “full roll out” for this September. In Seekonk, Mr. Angeli said a “full roll out” wouldn’t mean cameras on every bus in Seekonk, but “three or four” additional ones.