Project to limit bus crashes approved

CTA aims to decrease accidents with bus cameras

News Chicago Tribune
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In the hopes of reducing bus crashes, the Chicago Transit Authority board approved a $250,000 pilot project at its meeting July 11.

The project includes installing a driver-monitoring technology called DriveCam on 300 buses serving 16 routes.

DriveCam will be mounted on bus windshields and will contain audio and video recorders. It will record the driver’s entire route, but the system will only save recordings of events that exceed normal driving parameters, according to DriveCam Inc., the San Diego maker of the units. An on-board accelerometer triggered by abnormal motion will measure G-forces caused by changes in speed and direction, both vertically and laterally.

The project stems from the substantial number of CTA bus accidents in the recent past. The buses were involved in over 4,000 accidents in 2006.

"The goal is to take a proactive approach to safety by identifying risky and dangerous driving behaviors and retraining drivers before accidents happen," CTA President Ron Huberman said.

The CTA bus drivers union and some bus drivers voiced concerns about the technology. Other bus drivers said the change is needed to curb careless driving.

"They're already monitoring everything. We've got tracking devices, supervisors everywhere, not to mention the passengers complaining," said Lakisha Nevels, who has been driving for nine years. She said many of the practices that DriveCam would flag, such as speeding or swerving from lane to lane, are necessary to keep the buses on schedule. She believes that more oversight would make driving harder. "Having them watching you messes up your concentration," she said.

"A driver would only have a problem with it if they can't drive up to par," said Charles Jackson, who has been driving for 16 years. "It wouldn't bother me."

The goal of the project is to seek out drivers who need remedial instruction and those who probably should not have been hired in the first place, said William Mooney, the CTA vice president for bus operations.

If the end of the one-year project yields significant results and is determined to be worth the cost—equipping the entire CTA bus fleet with DriveCam would cost up to $2 million—DriveCam could be expanded to all 2,000 CTA buses. The initial surveillance will begin before the end of the summer.

"As to the savings, we want to see how the pilot goes before making projections on what it could mean systemwide. That's one of the reasons to start small and test it," said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney.

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