Muni bolsters camera stock 

Muni is watching you. More than 700 Muni buses and trains have already been equipped with video surveillance cameras — and more are on the way, according to a new Muni report. The transit agency — which carries about 672,000 riders each weekday on more than 1,000 vehicles — is planning to retrofit its underground boarding zones and maintenance yards with cameras as part of a $7 million security improvement program that also includes alarms, fencing, lighting and monitoring consoles.

All platforms along the new T-Third light rail line have been equipped with cameras and digital recorders, while all new vehicles obtained by the agency will also come with surveillance systems, according to Muni’s Short Range Transit Plan for 2008-2027, released this week. The agency is also busy equipping buses with cameras located above operators’ heads with funds from a state grant, the report states.

"I wouldn’t feel secure without them," said Ricardo Hernandez, who drives a 14-Mission bus, regarding the video systems. "They help keep the taggers away."

The new surveillance systems and security measures are meant to improve safety for passengers, employees and Muni property. When criminal activity occurs on board, operators are required to report to a supervisor, who then notifies the Police Department.

Some of the most common incidents onboard Muni vehicles include altercations between riders, passengers who refuse to pay,general unruliness, tagging and assaults on Muni drivers, according to operators and Irwin Lum, president of the local Transport Workers Union of America.

On average, 71 attacks on Muni drivers have been reported each year for the last five years, according to Muni. The highest number came in fiscal year 2002-03, when 84 assaults were recorded; the lowest number occurred in fiscal year 2005-06, with 51. In fiscal year 2006-07, 73 assaults were reported. Lum says many more incidents are not reported.

According to the short-range transit plan report, a security camera pilot program on 14-Mission buses led to a "dramatic reduction of incidents" and also "assisted with the prosecution of individuals" involved.

"The cameras are a step forward," Lum said. "Some people complain about privacy, like it’s Big Brother. But safety is the main concern."

While Muni works closely with a 10-officer squad from the San Francisco Police Department assigned to reduce criminal activity on Muni vehicles, Lum said the transit agency should go one step further and employ its own police force.

"In most other systems, like BART, they have their own dedicated police force," he said. "That’s something we look forward to having."

arocha@examiner.com

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