SmartBus May Roll into Hamden

Cameras attached to school buses will catch drivers who illegally pass when the buses are loading or discharging students

Some statistics claim that a school bus driver will see at least one car a day illegally pass the bus while its red lights are flashing, creating a dangerous situation for the student getting on or off the vehicle.

To combat that, the Board of Education is considering employing the services of a company that outfits buses with cameras that catch the offenders and file charges against the car's owner.

SmartBus is a Connecticut-based company that provides the technology for districts and administers the program that allows those receiving tickets to pay them online. The revenue from the ticket is shared with the company and the district.

"We bring in different types of technology to make smarter and safer buses," Jill Lankee, a representative of SmartBus, the company that works in a number of different states providing cameras on school buses, told the Board of Education's Operations Committee Tuesday.

A recent state statute allows for the placement of cameras on school buses, she said, and Connecticut is one of a handful of states that have passed such laws, including Rhode Island, where SmartBus works extensively. Many other states are considering such legislation, she said.

"Our aim is to provide the necessary techonology to stop the violations," she said. "It's a problem nationwide, with 22 children killed each year."

SmartBus provides the equipment, installation, maintenance and service at no cost to the district, she said, and recoups its costs from the infraction revenue, which it shares with the district.

First, a complete bus route analysis is done, which in Hamden would be of the district's 93 bus routes, to determine which ones would benefit most from the camera systems. Next, temporary cameras are placed on the buses to see how many violations are recorded.

The cameras, which are monitored at a central monitoring station, are placed as to provide a complete rotation of angles to catch cars passing the buses starting from the back and proceeding forward, which is recorded inside the bus in a small computer.

The cameras create an evidence file used by law enforcement and capture the vehicle's license plates/ Violations, which carry a $450 fine, are issued to the registered owner regardless of who is actually driving the vehicle.

"This is a serious violation," Lankee said. "This is not meant to be a trap but to be a safety program and a deterrant."

The district receives 80 percent of the fine money, which is used in part to pay for the system. The rest of the money either goes to the town's General Fund or to the Board of Education.

The state of Rhode Island was the first in the nation to enact the legislation that enables districts to contract with third parties for these services, she said, and since then has realized almost $1 million in net revenue, with an average of 3,000 violations issued each year.

But board member Myron Hul questioned whether the district would open itself up to liability if it were enact the system. If a child were hurt by a car illegally passing a bus that was not equipped with the camera system, he asked, could the district be held liable?

"Would the town be liable for not providing equal protection?" he asked, a question that will be answered by the district's legal counsel before next Tuesday's full board meeting.

"The sad truth is, a child is as likely to get hit by a car on a bus with or without cameras," Lankee said. "The goal is to create a system that is as close as possible to having a police officer riding along side the bus."

Hul said he also has concerns about ticketing the car's owner, who may or may not have been driving at the time of the violation.

"I have concerns about ticketing an object rather than the person committing the offense," he said. Because of those concerns, he would only support implementation of a pilot program rather than committing outright to the system, he said.

Both Police Chief Tom Wydra and Mayor Scott Jackson are supportive of the program, Business Manager Michael Belden said, and Jackson has indicated that he would support the revenue directed to the school board.

New Canaan and New Britain are currently using the program, Lankee said, and West Hartford, Shelton and Greenwich are also considering implementation.

The committee voted to recommend to the full board implementing the program, but because it did not endorse only a pilot program, Hul voted against the proposal. The full board will now take it up at its regular meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the board offices.


Thomas Alegi October 06, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Does SmartBus also take pictures of speeding school buses drivers and school buses drivers that run stop signs and stoplights? School bus drivers who speed and run stop signs and stoplights are as much at fault as the driver that illegally passes school buses while school bus’s red lights are flashing. If SmartBus also monitors the driving habits of school bus drivers than the BOE should spend the money to protect our children , if not than the BOE should not spend the money. Then there is the question, are we as a fast pace society using cameras to replace our personal moral responsibilities to be law-abiding citizens with Camera-Morality?
Jennifer October 06, 2011 at 01:53 PM
I am all for safety, but am wondering If Hamden is so concerned about safety, why they need go through all this, when on some stops it would be easier to just move the stop to a less busy and safer location? For example, my son's bus stop is at the corner of a cul-du-sac and Shepard Ave. Making my 2nd grader cross the very busy Shepard Ave. everyday. I have asked the bus company at the start of every year school year to move the stop off of Shepard Ave. to the top of the cul-du-sac. Their response... "Is that they won't, because it would add a couple of extra minutes to the bus route, and so far no kids have gotten hurt, so don't worry about it and the bus stop stays on Shepard Ave.". I am sure, that we are not the only bus stop in town, with the option of making it safer by a simple move to a less busy street.
Kathleen Ramunni October 06, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Tom, the company does have a program that monitors drive behavior but as of now that is not something the board is considering.
Thomas Alegi October 06, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Kathleen, its bus drives bad driving habits the cause more automobile accidents then drivers running school bus red lights. Therefore, I find it laughable when BOE members say to the public that schoolchildren’s safety is paramount. Paramount to who?
Julie S October 08, 2011 at 01:52 PM
Jennifer, I work at first student, and don't know who would have told you that, but by all means call me @ 203-288-2887 And your concern will be addressed!!


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