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Surveillance on Greater Victoria transit buses starts with cameras

The assault of a bus driver in Saanich last week highlighted a surprising fact about the Capital Region’s public transportation system.

“There is not one operating (surveillance) camera on a B.C. Transit bus,” said spokeswoman Meribeth Burton.

Witnesses of the attack apprehended the suspect in the Dec. 26 incident, a situation that was not altogether isolated. Records show drivers reported 53 threats and attempted assaults against them in 2012 across Greater Victoria.

The latest incident was the third assault causing bodily harm against a driver in the region this year.

In 2013, B.C. Transit hopes to install security cameras – and potentially audio recording devices – on much of its 1,000-bus fleet across the province.

“There are a lot of ways that it’s demonstrated that we need that level of security, not just for our operators, but for our passengers as well,” Burton said. “That kind of empirical evidence would be really helpful.”

She clarified that B.C. Transit is awaiting comment from B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner on the use of audio recording before it presents the proposal to its board this month.

“With board approval and the privacy commissioner’s approval, then we’ll go to our municipal partners and find out who’s interested,” she said.

Should privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham identify potential concerns with audio recording on buses, video surveillance will still move ahead, Burton added.

The final price tag will sit somewhere between $4 and $6 million, depending on how many municipalities choose to buy the closed-circuit TV cameras.

In 2011, a federal government assessment estimated it would cost $10 million to install cameras on the B.C. Transit fleet in all of the 123 communities it serves.

The new price tag is due to infrastructure upgrades now completed, Burton said.

“We have the telecommunications centre that was set up a few months ago in Greater Victoria that can handle surveillance in the province. So, we’ve put the infrastructure in place, including the software programs.”

Buses purchased within the last five years also come with standard CCTV equipment, she said.

“It’s just a matter of turning them on.”

There are about 300 buses in Greater Victoria, making it the largest B.C. Transit fleet in the province. With nearly 50 per cent of B.C. Transit’s resources devoted to the Capital Region, which has a complex cost-sharing formula, the Victoria Region Transit Commission will tread carefully when considering the buy-in cost sometime in mid-2013.

“There’s a cost factor and a privacy issue,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, also a transit commission director. “If there’s a way that we can make not only the drivers, but the passengers safer, I’m all for looking at (the options).”

The majority of Metro Vancouver buses, run by TransLink, already use video surveillance, but none have audio recording capabilities, said Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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