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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cameras coming soon to Honolulu city buses

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The city will award a contract on June 15 for surveillance cameras and microphones to be installed on 49 buses.

Advertiser library photo

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Smile. You could be on TheBus camera.

Starting as soon as this week, the city may begin using surveillance cameras on city buses.

The city will test different systems and award a contract on June 15 for the installation of cameras and microphones on 49 buses, or 9 percent of the fleet, according to a request for bids issued May 3. The city has not said if it plans to expand the program to all 531 buses.

The addition of cameras to TheBus is supposed to:

• Provide a sense of security for drivers and passengers,

• Reduce criminal activity, including theft and vandalism, and

• Reduce liability complaints.

However, plans to install surveillance equipment on buses are drawing opposition from employees of O'ahu Transit Services Inc., operator of TheBus. Teamsters Local 996, which covers about 1,300 drivers, mechanics, maintenance workers and clerical staff of OTS, has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking to prevent the city from installing the surveillance equipment.

Bus employees are concerned that video and audio information gathered could be used against them, said Ron Kozuma, president of Local 996.

"The cameras really should be to monitor the perimeter of facilities and the people going onto the bus, not to monitor the operator or employees," he said. "It's like anybody else how would they feel if they were watched by their boss for eight hours a day or 10 hours a day.

"I think that's unreasonable working conditions to be under. The company has an obligation to negotiate those types of things with the union, which they have not."

Roger Morton, president and general manager for OTS, referred questions about the bus surveillance system to James Burke, chief of the city's Public Transit Division. The Advertiser called Burke yesterday morning and was told he was in a meeting. Later in the day, Burke's office referred questions about bus cameras to city transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka. At about 3.30 p.m., Yoshioka's office said he was at a City Council budget meeting. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, Yoshioka had not contacted The Advertiser to comment on the bus cameras.

Honolulu would join a growing list of cities with bus surveillance equipment that includes San Francisco, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago.

The installation of video and audio recording equipment in buses also has raised concerns about privacy invasion. Last year The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority added cameras to some rail cars. The cameras are equipped with microphones. However, they're kept off because of privacy concerns, according to a September story in The Washington Post.

Officials with the Hawaii Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union were unavailable for comment on this story yesterday.

Privately gathered video already has been used to discipline a Honolulu bus driver. In 2008, a bus passenger caught a driver on video playing a hand-held electronic game. That driver was suspended.

The city started soliciting bids for the bus surveillance system on May 3 and set a May 10 deadline for bidders to schedule a test of their equipment. That dead- line was later extended to May 14 after a complaint by at least one vendor. The city has said the contract must be in place before the end of June. However, the budget for the project has not been disclosed.

Once the contract is awarded, the winning bidder will have one year to install the equipment on 40, 40-foot buses and nine, 60-foot buses.

According to the city's request for bids, the cameras will be mounted in six positions:

• Facing out the front window;

• Facing the front door and fare box;

• Mounted at the front, but facing the rear of the bus;

• Mounted at the center, but facing the rear of the bus;

• Mounted outside the bus facing curbside;

• And mounted outside the bus facing roadside;

Articulated 60-foot buses will have two additional cameras. Each of the 49 buses also will be equipped with a microphone , which will record audio in the proximity of the bus driver and fare box. Video and audio would be stored in a recorder on the bus and be available remotely.

The upcoming surveillance system test follows a small-scale test of similar technology on TheBus in 2007.