Politics & Government

Pierce Transit bus cameras ‘98 percent’ operational on routes

Several hundred recording devices have recently started rolling on Pierce Transit buses, and the agency says it will finish equipping its fleet with interior and exterior cameras by the end of this month.

Pierce Transit officials say they are “98 percent” done with a $2 million project to install 10 to 12 cameras on each of the agency’s 140 buses. The purpose is to reduce vandalism and other illegal activity, help track hit-and-run drivers and help investigate claims filed by passengers. The surveillance system also can produce live video or audio streams during emergency situations, the agency says.

“Perceptions of riding the bus are often a hurdle for potential bus riders to overcome,” Penny Grellier, chairwoman of the Pierce Transit Community Transportation Advisory Group, said in a statement. “Pierce Transit provides safe service, and I hope new riders are reassured with the installation of cameras on Pierce Transit’s fleet.”

Video records will be kept for 30 days unless “tagged” for longer retention, said Justin Leighton, the agency’s interim spokesman. There is no established policy dictating when to hold on to a recording; Leighton said some incidents that might trigger longer retention include a crime being committed on a bus, a car rear-ending a bus or a passenger falling down and getting hurt.

Some transit board members have said the agency should brace for public records requests for security video, as has happened elsewhere with police body cameras. And some have voiced concern about the potential costs of processing records requests for videos, which could require blurring or editing images of bus riders to protect their privacy.

Even so, the transit board voted unanimously in December to approve the $2 million camera purchase as part of the 2015 budget.

The cameras will capture everything inside the buses — except for bus operators, at their union’s request. Bus operators will be recorded on audio, Leighton said.

Cameras will not be installed on the paratransit fleet, trolley vehicles or small vehicles used in circulator service such as those used for the Puyallup Connector Route 425.

Pierce Transit’s camera initiative will bring it up to date with other regional transportation agencies that have cameras on all or part of their fleets, including King County Metro, Sound Transit and Intercity Transit in Olympia.

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