Madison’s Metro Transit will complete a three-year plan to install security cameras on all buses by mid-March.
The plan to install cameras on all 203 buses in the Madison area began in 2007 to address increasing incidents of fights and other disorderly behavior on the buses. Metro spokesperson Mick Rusch credits the cameras for a 15 percent decrease in incidents from 2008 to 2009.
“We have 13.4 million riders a year,” he said. “When you’re driving thousands of people around each day you have issues that come up. We got the cameras to address the issues.”
Although not all crime on the bus is related to school-age children, much of what made the news and prompted the installation of cameras on the buses was.
According to the mayor’s assistant Joel Plant, this move presented a great opportunity to strengthen the relationship between several groups in the city. The Madison Police Department, the Madison School District, Metro Transit and the mayor’s office all met and fleshed out a plan to combat juvenile crime.
In certain situations, Metro Transit will share the video footage with the school district, which can then identify any suspects and report them to the police if necessary.
“In 2007 we were seeing a lot of fight activity on the buses,” Plant said. “We have reduced that and now we have been able to fight vulgar language and disorderly behavior. The video has been phenomenally helpful in preventing incidents.”
The cameras have also become a great resource for the MPD. A highly publicized incident occurred in Aug. 2009 when a state legislator ran a red light and drove into a bicyclist. A camera on a Metro bus captured the collision.
“Because we can actually see outside the buses, we essentially have a moving camera,” Plant said. “The use of cameras on buses is an expansion of cameras in public spaces to prevent and respond to crime.”
Each bus has five cameras on it. The cameras are able to see everything in front and behind the bus, everything in the passenger area and who enters from the front door. Most of the cameras also record audio.
Chuck Kamp, Metro Transit general manager, said the video along with the audio has been very useful in mediating customer disputes and provides additional security for the drivers.
“The cameras show and help us verify our employees are handling the situation in the correct manner,” Kamp said. “It has also become a good training tool for us.”
Metro Transit has a training team that reviews the video footage to identify issues of customer service and safety. In cases where the driver handled the situation incorrectly, the team is able to inform the driver of better ways to handle the situation. When the team sees the driver do something good, it may use the footage in training videos.
Placing the cameras cost the city $429,000. The city buys about 14 buses each year to replace older buses. In the future, all new buses will have cameras pre-installed.