Today’s transit fleets face countless threats to safety and security — threats that are known and unknown. How can any organization make a difference in the community? Law enforcement can’t be on every bus, but cameras can.
“Recently, we had a passenger brandish a weapon while onboard a bus. He exited and threw the weapon in a nearby trashcan.” This harrowing incident, described by Dinero’ Washington, punctuates the necessity for video surveillance on transit vehicles.
“Because of our cameras, the police were able to find and arrest him,” explains Washington, president and CEO of SporTran Transit Management in Shreveport, La.
Key to Safety
An increasing number of transit agencies are choosing surveillance camera systems as an effective means to instill passenger trust, improve community safety, and increase security. Because security cameras were in place on the bus, SporTran was able to provide law enforcement with proof of the individual’s identity and help make Shreveport a safer place. The very presence of surveillance cameras and warning labels displayed inside the vehicles is often enough to ward off behavior like fare skipping, false accusations, and behavior endangering others, but when incidents happen, the video makes all the difference.
“If you don’t get the video, you’ve got nothing,” says Richie Howard, president and CEO of AngelTrax, a provider of mobile video surveillance systems. “In this industry, when something goes wrong, everyone wants video of what happened and even who was at fault. That’s why it’s so important to have high-definition cameras in the right locations.”
The incident may have been the result of a security threat or a safety hazard, or it could have been an accident. Any one of these could result in loss for the transit agency, and video can mitigate that loss.
“Having a surveillance system in our vehicles and facilities has done so much to enhance our staff and riders’ sense of security,” states Washington. “It’s comforting to know that there is a digital backup of every encounter. From accidents and injuries to smaller incidents like a bus operator’s service levels, our surveillance system gives us the ability to contact the proper authorities, if needed, and to use video as a training tool for our staff.”
In-vehicle video surveillance is an essential element of ensuring the safety and security of transit companies and their drivers and riders, and choosing the right provider is essential. “Choose a name you can trust,” says Howard, “a company that will partner with you and help you choose the right cameras and the right camera configuration that is best for each of your vehicles.”
High-definition cameras, specifically designed for the rigors of transportation, are available now in 1080P up to 4K resolution and in a large variety of focal lengths to capture each desired view inside and outside the bus.
For example, a larger bus will need more coverage for passenger seating and a second door; this could be accomplished with more cameras or a wider field of view. Likewise, the camera layout for a paratransit bus should include clear views of the ramp or lift, plus wheelchair latches. A camera facing the farebox should deter fare skipping and could be positioned to also capture passenger conversations with the driver. Exterior cameras should be installed in key locations to capture views of both passenger doors and any activity near the bus.
Each camera should be strategically placed to serve a specific purpose — increasing safety and security. A camera mounted on the windshield, facing the interior, could be used to exonerate a bus operator who has been falsely accused of inappropriate behavior or using a cell phone while driving, and an exterior view from the windshield could prove the operator avoided a deadly collision with the harsh braking a passenger complained about. A 210-degree, 4K view of passenger seating could confirm or dismiss an accusation of theft. Video captured by onboard cameras has even been used to aid law enforcement in making community streets safer.
“Our coaches are equipped with six cameras, which we can live remote into and see what is going on at any time,” according to Southern Coaches President John Adams, whose company utilizes live view for real-time insight. “I can't count the number of times this system has brought the truth to the forefront and saved us many dollars and unanswered questions about an incident or accident.”
For example, during a four-coach move in New York, the camera system saved Southern Coaches from paying for repairs caused by another driver.
“We were attempting to enter the Lincoln Tunnel, which in itself is one hard maneuver, with eight lanes trying to merge into two,” Adams recounts. “A truck pulling a trailer loaded with sheet rock passed one of our coaches and cut in too soon and caught the left-hand rearview mirror and took it completely off. I really don't think the driver of the truck knew he hit our mirror. The AngelTrax camera system was able to see the tag number of the truck and trailer, so we were able to contact the owner and file a claim with their insurance company. Imagine trying to maneuver in New York City without a left-hand mirror.”
Preventing unnecessary claims on the fleet’s insurance can make a dramatic difference in a transit provider’s bottom line. In addition to proving another driver’s culpability in traffic accidents, security cameras are especially useful in exonerating an innocent driver from a false accusation, keeping the driver’s reputation in good standing.
“Surveillance also allows us to clear our staff of suspected wrong-doing,” Washington says. “For instance, there have been many times when we have received complaints about bus operators speeding. When we go to the video and data to check the speed, we find they were not speeding at all. It’s been a wonderful tool for our business.”
Today’s mobile surveillance technologies extend well beyond video. With AngelTrax, says Howard, “Our customers can manage situations using live camera views and live bus tracking. They can help their bus operators improve their driving, keep passengers informed of route information with passenger display monitors, and manage changing route demands with passenger counters. Our customers can now have the latest in video storage with our new 3.5-inch, large capacity hard drives and M.2 SATA SSD storage.”
Considerations for Choosing a Provider
When choosing a surveillance system for safety and security, any commercial or community transportation provider must consider numerous factors such as their drivers, riders, vehicles, and mechanics. Most importantly, choose a provider with a reputation for excellent service.
Even with the best in surveillance equipment, there is no substitute for bus drivers and mechanics who are vigilant in watching for threats to safety and security.
Bus drivers should be aware of suspicious activity in or around the bus, verbal altercations between passengers, and any change in the operation of the vehicle. Any of these should prompt the driver to press the driver-operated panic button, if available, and/or report the issue to the supervisor immediately for action or further investigation. In addition, the camera system should be programmable to capture the bus driver’s pre- and post-trip inspections of the vehicle, holding the driver accountable for these important tasks, which will often reveal the need for a mechanic’s attention.
Bus mechanics play a key role in protecting the safety and security of drivers and riders alike, by performing critical routine tasks, such as sanitizing each bus, making sure camera lenses are clean, and checking each camera and recording unit for signs of tampering, in addition to inspecting and testing the working parts of the bus.
Today’s fleet managers are faced with the resounding need for video evidence for countless reasons, including helping law enforcement in investigations, protecting the innocent when conflicting accounts abound, and preventing false allegations from ruining lives. Trusting the experts is more important now than ever before.
About the Author: Laura Willeford is the marketing director at AngelTrax