Madison's Metro Transit Seeks Surveillance System

Jeremy Byers, who's driven a Metro Transit bus for seven years, wants the cameras.

"I've been punched in the face. I've seen many fights," Byers said during a stop at the South Transfer Station on Park Street Monday.

After months of study, Metro is proposing a $50,300 contract to put video surveillance systems in 15 buses.

"It's a good idea. You'd feel more secure," a Sennett Middle School student said while he and a buddy waited for a bus at the station.

"Definitely a good idea," his pal said. "Gangs come here."

The city once had cameras on a limited number of buses, but they fell into disrepair years ago and weren't replaced, partly over privacy concerns, Metro General manager Catherine Debo said.

Now, there's momentum to bring them back.

Alds. Ken Golden, Larry Palm and Noel Radomski, members of the city's Transit and Parking Commission, tonight will introduce a resolution to the City Council for a contract for video surveillance systems with Radio Engineering Industries. If later approved, cameras could be installed on buses this spring or summer.

Cameras would record incidents that threaten the safety of drivers or passengers, serve as a deterrent, and offer a sense of security to riders waiting at transfer stations, Debo said, adding they will be placed on buses used most by students and on other problem routes.

Also, Metro is preparing a contract to install cameras at the South Transfer Station, and perhaps the West Station, which is experiencing problems.

Between Jan. 1, 2004, and April 30, 2005, drivers and customers reported 476 incidents of disruptive behavior and 153 physical assaults ranging from spitting to fighting, Metro statistics show.

In January, police responded to a reported fight among 20 to 30 youth, some with baseball bats, at the West Transfer Station. A month earlier, young men were pushing girls into the snow at the East Transfer Station and beat a 42-year-old man who asked them to stop.

A bus driver who declined to be named said on Monday that drivers and passengers "put up with a lot of garbage" from troublemakers so routes aren't disrupted by stops.

Cameras might reduce problems and also help Metro collect damages for vandalism, the driver said.

The cameras are only part of a broader Metro security program adopted by the TPC earlier this year, Golden stressed. The program outlines responsibilities for staff, promotes training, and calls for coordination with the police and school district and communications with customers.

Without the program, "we would be filming crime rather than preventing it," Golden said.

"It comes down to customer service and increasing ridership," Radomski said. "If there are problems and they're not addressed, it begins to impact peoples' perceptions of safety. We've got to be proactive."