Stephen Anderson

Stephen Anderson

B.C. Transit unveils watch-dog CCTV system

The next time you catch a ride on a B.C. Transit bus, smile. You might be on closed-circuit camera.

The bus company has put cameras on two double-deckers and one regular in Greater Victoria, the testing ground for a one-year pilot program that rolled out Tuesday.

It’s hoped the high-tech capability will allow the company to deter crime on board, reduce fraudulent injury claims and recover costs associated with traffic accidents.

The $25,000 project is coming out of transit’s provincial capital projects fund, said Joanna Linsangan, transit spokesperson.

Adding audio and video equipment to all 1,000 buses in the provincial fleet would cost at least $10 million, or $10,000 per bus, not including infrastructure costs such as additional security staff and ongoing maintenance, said Stephen Anderson, B.C. Transit’s head of corporate safety and security.

There are about 300 buses in Greater Victoria, B.C. Transit’s largest fleet in the province.

There is potential for the technology to prevent insurance rate increases caused by accidents, as well as helping recover repair costs from drivers who sideswipe buses. How much money will be saved, Anderson can’t say.

However, if the cameras protect passengers and transit operators from assault and expedite resulting court cases, they will represent “value for money,” he said.

Fifty-four assaults on passengers, drivers and transit supervisors were reported from 2010 to 2011, and 16 reports of passengers spitting on drivers were made last year.

The equipment will store recorded footage for seven days to allow security officials to retrieve black-box data from on board a bus in the event of a serious complaint or assault, or when asked by ICBC, police or for Access to Information requests. After that, the tape is recorded over.

“It’s so important that it’s the people the system protects,” Anderson explained.

Anytime there is an incident, the driver can immediately press a button that tags a section of tape for recall later. The technology also records bus speed, braking and signal indicators.

While Rob Holmes, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the cameras are “one more straw on the camel’s back in privacy issues,” the head of the union representing about 560 Victoria transit drivers, believes the system is an important backup for those in the driver’s seat.

“It’s a two-edged sword and it depends on how you swing it,” said L.R. Jones, president of Canadian Auto Workers Union Local 333. “As long as they use it for security and safety (it’s good) and not as a tool to scrutinize the driver.”