“In hearing the concerns that come across the telephone lines, it can be difficult for passengers to recall how the situation happened without getting emotions involved and just report the facts,” Michele McNeill, director of the city’s Community Services Department, told the Pasadena Star News. “It literally becomes one word against someone else’s. I think passengers would be pretty thrilled to know that we can pull data and information to confirm their concerns.”

McNeill noted that passengers alert her office about a variety of issues, including too many passengers on the bus, rude bus operators, unsafe bus operation and riders bringing too much baggage aboard.

The city’s Community Services Department issued a report stating that a video system could help in investigations, as well as prevent some transit problems.

“It is likely that the purchase and installation of a transitwide surveillance system would help to deter problem passenger behaviors,” the report noted. “The use of a transit surveillance system would also improve customer service because passenger concerns could be more thoroughly investigated.”

The cameras will capture audio and video for at least two weeks of bus activity before taping over old footage, said Annette Jackson, a management analyst in the Community Services Department, which is supervising the system installation.

The video units will be installed on all seven buses in the city’s Go West bus fleet and all five buses in the Dial-A-Ride fleet, according to Jackson.

“We have our fingers crossed that installation of the surveillance system will be completed by the end of March,” Jackson told GovPro.com.

Jackson added that city officials will review the footage only in the event of an incident reported aboard a bus or a passenger or resident complaint.

“This type of system is popular nationwide,” Jackson said.

West Covina’s Community Services Department processes bus-service complaints and manages a contract with Southland Transit to run the bus system.

West Covina is in the San Gabriel Valley, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles, in eastern Los Angeles County. The city’s 2006 population was 107,745, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Video surveillance on other transit systems

London may be the global leader in video surveillance, with 6,000 cameras in the Underground rapid transit system’s 268 stations and on the system’s 250 miles of track.

Other Los Angeles transit systems also are monitored via camera. Almost all of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) buses have cameras that save still pictures.

Technology is on the minds of many mass transit operators, according to Greg Hull, who is director of security and operations support at the American Public Transportation Association.

“We have seen a growing move among transit agencies to look at implementing technologies that include a much greater application of closed-circuit television, both in stations and onboard buses and trains,” Hull told GovPro.com. “We have also seen greater implementation of other technologies such as intrusion detection and access-control systems, and there still remains a great need for upgrading our radio communications systems.”

According to Hull, mass transit operators continue to struggle to get federal funding for security.

“In 2005, Congress started to designate and appropriate security funds specifically for mass transit. In this current fiscal year (2008), we have had a total of $400 million being allocated for mass transit, freight-rail, and Amtrak,” Hull said. “Incrementally, the amounts have been growing. Past surveys that we have done within our industry, however, tell us that the funding still falls short of what the actual needs are.”

Complicating the problem, explained Hull, are some new requirements from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“This is the first year that we have seen DHS require a cost-sharing arrangement for mass transit projects,” Hull said. “DHS tells us that they will make funding available to Tier 1 and Tier 2 potential recipients, but those grant recipients will have to come up with 25 percent of the overall cost of the project on their own. So we are creating a have- and have-not scenario that can put some transit systems at greater security risk if they can’t locate local funding dollars.”

For more information, visit the APTA Security Affairs Steering Committee Web page. Hull is staff advisor to the committee.