Metro is testing the use of video surveillance on bus routes where riders frequently evade fares and sometimes take their frustrations out on drivers.
The transit agency said it is installing new video surveillance monitors on 22 X2 buses next month, aiming to enhance safety and security of Metrobus employees and riders, while also responding to a report by federal transportation officials that found that Metro has not adequately addressed the rising number of assaults by passengers on bus operators.
The new equipment will monitor activity inside the bus and will allow passengers to see what the security cameras are recording. An 8.4-inch screen above the bus operator will allow riders to see themselves as they board, and a 19-inch screen behind the driver, facing the passengers, will show the activities inside the bus.
“Through this effort, we want to remind riders that all activity aboard our buses is captured by the cameras and see whether the presence of the new video monitors has an additional deterrent effect,” Metro’s top executive, Jack Requa, said in a statement.
A June report by the Federal Transit Administration ranked the rising number of assaults on bus operators as the greatest safety concern for Metrobus. Metro’s efforts to address the problem have been constrained, the FTA report said, by chronic fare-box malfunctions — which can lead to driver-passenger disputes, and violence. Fare-box malfunctions are so common that some passengers become accustomed to riding free and balk at having to pay when the boxes are in working order.
In recent years, drivers have been spat on, slapped and even stabbed, and at least one driver was shocked with a Taser, according to reports. The abuse is taking a toll on the productivity and attendance of those at the forefront of the nation’s sixth-largest bus network, according to the federal review of Metro.
Metro, police and transit union officials say assaults on drivers not only put the employees at risk, but also impact the safety of passengers aboard buses. Other initiatives have been launched to address the problem, including training for drivers, outreach campaigns targeting young people and teaching them about respecting Metro staff, and the installation on some buses of shields that close like gates after operators are buckled into their seats, providing a barrier between drivers and passengers.
Metro Transit Police said the agency has increased the number of police officers— in plain clothes and in uniform— on bus lines where fare evasion is common and drivers have been assaulted. All buses in the system are equipped with cameras capturing activity inside and outside buses, police said.
The new monitors will be installed within the next few weeks on buses on the X2 line, which travels along H Street from Benning Road to Lafayette Square. One of the busiest routes in the system, the X2 has a daily ridership of 12,180 and it has experienced the most incidents of assaults on drivers this year, Metro said. So far this year, four X2 bus drivers have been assaulted, Metro officials said.
The number of buses that will be equipped with the technology is small for a network of more than 325 bus routes and a fleet of more than 1,500 buses. Metro says it wants to test the technology on the X2 line, measure its effectiveness for a few months, and then decide whether to expand it to other troubled lines in the system. The pilot program costs $81,000.