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B.C. Transit to put surveillance cameras on buses

Cameras will be monitoring B.C. Transit buses inside and out in an effort to improve safety and reduce vandalism. “We will do it as a slow rollout,” as new buses are brought in, Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said Wednesday.
A double decker bus at University of Victoria's transit exchange.

Cameras will be monitoring B.C. Transit buses inside and out in an effort to improve safety and reduce vandalism.

“We will do it as a slow rollout,” as new buses are brought in, Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said Wednesday. It would be cost-prohibitive to put cameras in all 1,030 buses in the fleet at the same time, she said.

“It has to be a provincewide program because we do move buses throughout the fleet [across the province].”

Violence on buses, disputes over fares, and vandalism are among concerns facing the corporation, drivers and passengers. B.C. Transit delivers bus services throughout province, outside of Metro Vancouver.

“I think that is going to be an important tool,” Burton said. “Certainly, in any kind of criminal activity, the cameras would be an invaluable help to police and our investigators at B.C. Transit.”

A woman allegedly attacked a baby, a two-year-old and a four-year-old after the children’s mother asked her to stop swearing on a Langley bus this week.

Saanich police said in December 2012 that a bus driver was punched several times by a passenger. Assaults on bus drivers are a growing problem across the country, Ben Wlliams, president of Unifor Local 333, said at the time.

Transit’s plan is to issue a request for a contract in late summer to install and operate a digital closed-circuit television surveillance system for Transit buses, Burton said. The potential cost was not immediately available.

A draft of that request has been released to seek industry feedback prior to issuing the request for proposals. Comments and recommendations will be accepted by Transit until June 12.

“We want to gauge which vendors are interested in providing proposals, what kind of hardware and software solutions we are going to need to install, and then [look at] the ongoing monitoring,” Burton said.

The draft document said the program would be implemented first in Victoria and Duncan.

No B.C. Transit bus has a working surveillance system, Burton said. Buses purchased in the past couple of years came equipped with cameras, which could be linked to a surveillance system. Old buses will not be retrofitted.

About 200 buses now have five to six analog cameras each, with an empty housing suitable for a digital video recording device, the draft states. Some double-deckers have up to eight cameras. The goal is to have five internal cameras for most buses — three for small vehicles and nine for double-deckers — plus one exterior-mounted camera. There would also be a global-positioning system.

An agreement with a company to provide monitoring could run up to 10 years, the draft says. A date for the system to be in place has not yet been set.

Cameras were used temporarily in some buses in Victoria during a B.C. Transit pilot project in 2011. Signs were posted in buses where the system was in place.

“The presence of video surveillance on buses is commonplace in a number of transit systems worldwide and has proven to improve the safety and security of drivers and passengers on buses. Video surveillance has also led to successful prosecutions,” Transit said in a public notice at the time of the pilot project.

A business case has been developed in the past 18 months, Burton said. Transit discussed the matter with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. and will be following recommendations, she said.

The draft says that Transit is subject to strict privacy regulations. “The most strongly controlled video records are those showing scenes outside the vehicle, where the personal information of citizens might be captured without their knowledge. To minimize the creation of such records, exterior-facing cameras in this service are not to create persistent records unless the driver tags the video using the panic button or the accelerometer passes a threshold — indicating an event of direct interest and importance to B.C. Transit has occurred.”

It said surveillance records should only be accessible to authorized security reviewers and that access should be recorded.

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