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Greater Victoria buses have new eyes for security

Security cameras are set to make their debut today in up to 10 Victoria-area transit buses, a move meant to increase safety for drivers and passengers. Camera recordings will be used only in the event of an issue on a bus, said John Palmer, B.C.
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Tuesday: John Palmer, B.C. Transit's director of safety and emergency management, on board a bus fitted with new security cameras.

Security cameras are set to make their debut today in up to 10 Victoria-area transit buses, a move meant to increase safety for drivers and passengers.

Camera recordings will be used only in the event of an issue on a bus, said John Palmer, B.C. Transit’s director of safety and emergency management.

“There’s no live monitoring,” he said.

“Nobody’s sitting there watching the cameras. It’s similar to the black box on a plane, it just loops over itself unless something’s tagged.”

The number of camera-equipped buses around Victoria will be up to 75 by early May, Palmer said. That amounts to one-quarter of Victoria’s 300-bus fleet.

Of the buses to be involved, 23 are new and are built with cameras ready for use, while the others have had the existing hardware needed but not the software or recording equipment. Some of the new buses have arrived and the rest will come over the next couple of weeks.

Palmer said the one-year pilot project for the cameras also includes 25 buses in Kamloops. The overall cost of the project is $400,000.

The public will have no problem discerning if a bus is equipped with cameras, Palmer said.

Buses will have up to six cameras each.

“You’ll be able to identify them by the [decals] inside.”

Palmer said security cameras in buses are nothing new in North America, and have been in place in some centres for many years. Vancouver has had the cameras for at least a decade, he said.

Edmonton, Calgary and Regina are among other Canadian cities using security cameras on buses, he said.

Unifor Local 333 president Ben Williams, who represents about 550 B.C. Transit drivers, said the arrival of the security cameras is good news.

“Even if it deters one person from assaulting an operator or creating an issue or assaulting a passenger, then that’s a success.”

Williams said getting the security cameras going has been a four- or five-year process.

“It’s definitely taken quite some time with the privacy commissioner and other issues that they’ve had to deal with.”

B.C. Transit recorded 25 assaults on Victoria bus drivers in 2013 and 17 in 2014, with 16 incidents in the two-year period involving spitting and six involving applied force. Three of the incidents resulted in injuries to drivers.

jwbell@timescolonist.com