Hearing expected on bill to equip NYC school buses with stop-arm cameras

The New York City Council aims to hold a hearing this month on a bill aiming to equip school buses with cameras to catch illegally passing vehicles, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said during a panel hosted by City & State and BusPatrol on Tuesday.

“We’re looking to have a hearing mostly likely the 16th or 18th of December,” Rodriguez said.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos, would require the city to install cameras on nearly 10,000 school buses transporting students across the five boroughs that would record cars that pass when a bus’s stop sign is deployed. A new law signed by the governor in August gave local officials the ability to put cameras on buses, with the goal of finding and fining drivers found to be illegally passing buses letting children off. Both Suffolk and Nassau counties have already approved similar measures.

Up to 50,000 cars pass a stopped school bus in the state every day, according to one survey by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation. Data from a pilot program in East Meadow in Long Island, led by BusPatrol, which provides the cameras and other technology to school districts, indicated a disparity between the number of violations and enforcement of the law. Over the course of about one month monitoring 10 buses, the company identified 625 violations. Meanwhile, Nassau County issued 79 tickets for such violations in all of 2018. 

"The point of technology is to move us from a reactive way to a proactive way to addressing school safety,“ said Bus Patrol CEO Jean Souliere. “We don't need to wait for the worst to happen. 94%-98% of the violators who get a ticket via the stop-arm camera program don't illegally pass a school bus a second time. This works."

The program has fans in the transportation community. “We’ve seen that human enforcement on things like speeding and red-light violations is spotty at best,” said Eric McClure, executive director of StreetsPAC. “And when the speed camera program rolled out in New York City, the numbers of violations generated by the speed cameras were magnitudes greater than what police were writing physically.” Cynthia Brown, executive director at the New York Coalition for Transportation Safety, also noted that many traffic tickets come from one-time blitzes of enforcement, such as the Operation Safe Stop initiative spearheaded by the state.

Souliere said that the company’s clients saw that 94% to 98% of violators who were ticketed by the stop-arm camera program did not illegally pass a school bus again. There is no cost to localities to implement the program, Souliere pointed out, as the costs of implementation are recouped by the fines. 

This initiative follows growing pains surrounding the implementation of GPS tracking on New York City buses. Parents who hoped to use the technology to track bus routes found it failed to do so. The city announced a partnership with the rideshare app Via that will manage an app for parents to track routes, with plans to begin piloting it in January.

The City Council hopes to augment the recently approved GPS measures with a new stop arm camera technology.