Muni and BART will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for security cameras designed to make sure operators don’t use cellphones, despite both agencies having existing policies against that practice.
Transit agencies from throughout the state will have to install the equipment due to a recent ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission, which is aiming to crack down on cellphone violations in the wake of two-high profile rail accidents, including a 2008 crash in San Francisco that injured 16 people. The cameras must be placed in the conductor booths of the trains, and will monitor the actions of transit operators.
As a result, BART will have to spend $600,000 to outfit its 289 trains, according to spokesman Jim Allison. Muni hasn’t estimated yet how much the installations will cost, but it will have to place the cameras in all 151 of its light-rail vehicles. The agency, which is currently facing a $23 million budget deficit, is still trying to determine if the order needs to be carried out for its historic streetcar and cable car fleets, spokesman Paul Rose said.
In 2009, Muni installed similar equipment in the operator booths of its bus fleet, a program that cost the agency $1.2 million. In August, it secured a $6 million federal grant for a separate program to upgrade cameras in 358 buses. Rose said it was difficult to compare the costs of the new CPUC camera order with those programs since they were both more robust.
However, Tom Nolan, president of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors, which governs Muni, said the CPUC order places an unnecessary burden on the agency.
“This seems like it could be a huge expense for a relatively infrequent occurrence,” Nolan said. “We can easily rely on our patrons to let us know if operators are talking on their cellphones.”
Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents about 2,000 Muni operators, also called the state order unnecessary. The booths in Muni light-rail vehicles feature clear window panes and passengers can clearly notice the actions of operators, Scott said.
The CPUC approved the camera order Thursday, and the installation of the devices will have to be completed within three years. As part of the mandate, any operator caught on camera using a mobile device could face immediate termination.
The impetus for the order came from a 2008 train accident in Los Angeles in which 25 people were killed in a collision between a freight train and a commuter train. There was also a 2008 light-rail collision near San Francisco’s AT&T Park that injured 16 people. Both accidents were the result of operators talking on their cellphones, according to the CPUC.
$600,000: Cost for BART to install new cameras as a result of CPUC order
289: BART trains that will have a camera installed
151: Muni light-rail vehicles that will have a camera installed as a result of CPUC order
?: Cost for Muni to install the cameras
$1.2 million: Cost for SFMTA to install its DriveCam surveillance system in its buses
$6 million: Cost for SFMTA to upgrade existing security cameras on 358 buses
$23 million: Current SFMTA budget deficit
Source: BART, Muni