Most transit agencies now realize the positive impact of using video surveillance technology in their vehicles. These cameras aid in protecting and reassuring the passengers’ safety and comfort by reducing vandalism and other criminal activity. Also, in today’s litigious society, they can reduce the liability of the transit agencies, municipalities and their respective insurance companies from false and frivolous lawsuits.
While the benefits of this technology are real, there are substantial costs involved in equipping an entire fleet with a quality surveillance system. With shrinking transit budgets, the question that must be asked is: do the benefits outweigh the costs? In order to answer this we must first consider all costs that will be incurred (present and future), such as purchase price, added inventory, installation, operational and maintenance costs.
Starting a Video Surveillance Program
At Waukesha Metro we are currently on a test pilot program utilizing a digital video recorder (DVR) with six cameras. We had been considering cameras for some time, therefore when a vendor offered to let us try their unit free of charge; we saw it as an opportunity that was too good to pass up. The demo system is installed in one of our 2004 Gillig low floor buses. In its first year of operation it has been an extremely reliable system as we have not experienced a single issue with the DVR or cameras.
All six cameras on our pilot bus are color cameras and are aimed at critical vantage points such as entrance door (which covers the wheelchair ramp and farebox), the right front windshield (covering the street and curb), the exit door and three other interior locations that allow us to view all of the passenger seats in the bus including the two designated wheelchair places. The cameras at the entrance and exit doors are also equipped with audio microphones.
The digital hard drive is a small and compact unit which is located in a locked box behind the driver’s compartment. By having the recorder locked, it is guarded against theft and vandalism, and equally as important, it is also protected from being turned off or otherwise tampered with.
Most camera system vendors are willing to let a potential customer demo their system prior to making the decision to purchase. I would suggest to any agency that is considering the purchase of cameras, interview a minimum of four vendors. Then, based on established criteria, i.e. price, options, timing, etc., pick two vendors to install pilot systems into separate buses for a set amount of time. This will allow an agency to see first-hand how well each system performs on their streets and in their specific conditions. Along with being able to evaluate each system’s performance and reliability, the agency will get a feel of how easy to use each system is with respect to viewing incidents and accidents.
With the installation of a demo system, ask the vendor to include available options. Some of the options that may be available include audio microphones, event markers, color cameras, sensors which record braking, speed of vehicle, flashers, turn signals, lights, etc. By including these options, it becomes clearer over time which options are absolutely necessary, and which ones are not. When faced with tight budgets, this knowledge can be critical.
Looking at the Costs
The initial cost of a six-camera system can vary between $3,500 to $6,500 per bus depending on manufacturer and options. In addition to the initial cost, inventory expenses will also need to be considered. These systems generally come with a one-year warranty, therefore stocking up on spare parts may not be needed right away, but will eventually need to be purchased at some time. A spare hard drive allows the user to keep the bus in service by swapping out a hard drive with a spare unit. The cost of a hard drive for our system is approximately $1,200. Our vendor recommends a 10 to 20 percent spare ratio on hard drives, with a minimum of two spares for smaller properties. Other recommended spare parts include microphones, cameras, and DVRs. A 2 percent spare ratio on these items is adequate.