Friday, May 13, 2011

Vancouver Adding More Bus Cameras To Their Fleet

METRO VANCOUVER -- TransLink is adding more cameras to its bus fleet, claiming those already installed in its downtown trolley buses have not only improved bus driver safety but are helping to solve high-profile crimes.

The cameras, initially placed in 244 trolley buses in 2006, include five or six situated inside the buses to keep an eye on both the passengers and driver, with one facing the street. Another 600 are being installed in the rest of the trolleys as well as the diesel and hybrid buses, at a cost of $6.5 million.

The intent is to deter and investigate driver assaults, protect transit users against violent incidents and to help determine claims in road collisions or on-board incidents.

And so far they seem to be working, TransLink said. The cameras are being used to adjudicate 136 bus-related collision claims, while the number of bus driver assaults has dropped 20 per cent since 2009 from 44 assaults to 35 on the trolleys alone. By comparison, on non-trolley buses — those without cameras — the number of assaults also dropped, from 82 in 2009 to 76 in 2010.

The cameras have also been used to help catch criminals using the transit system.

Earlier this year, a man who was following women as they got off the Main Street bus was caught by police after they surveyed the front-facing cameras from the No. 3 bus, TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said. In another incident last year, a group of robbery suspects was caught on tape dividing up their loot in the back of the bus.

"They have been a great improvement in the system overall," said Catherine Melvin, spokesman for Coast Mountain Bus Co.

Melvin said it's too early to tell how much money is being saved in accident collision claims as a result of the cameras because many of those cases are still going through ICBC. But, she said, "it is something we are starting to track."

Don MacLeod, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union which represents bus drivers, said the cameras have aided drivers in situations where they might otherwise be held liable.

For instance, if a bus is cut off by a vehicle or a jaywalker, he said, drivers are often forced to brake suddenly, which could result in some passengers falling forward or being injured if they aren't holding on.

The cameras act as a witness, documenting both what happened in the front of the bus as well as inside it. When an incident occurs that a driver believes should be recorded, he or she can press a button and the video is "captured" — from three minutes before the incident until three minutes after.

Video tagged in this way can be held for up to 30 days, or longer if a police investigation or a court case requires the video record.

"They can be a fair witness; sometimes it comes down one person's word against another," Snider said. "A whole lot of things can be determined."

The trolleys were chosen for the first phase of the camera program because they are all the same and cover areas with a high concentration of transit users. The first phase of the project, which cost $3 million, included the infrastructure needed for the entire bus fleet.