Smile: You’re on RFTA TV |

Smile: You’re on RFTA TV

Remember to smile next time you catch a RFTA bus.

The valley’s transit agency has decided to start installing surveillance cameras on its buses. Four new buses, which will be in circulation by the end of this month, will be the first with the cameras.

They were installed as an extra feature at a cost of $10,000 for each bus, according to Dan Blankenship, RFTA executive director.

Blankenship said the new policy for RFTA might raise alarms about invasion of privacy and “creeping Big Brotherism.” However, the move is necessary because of the amount of crime that occurs on buses, he insisted.

“I’m not trying to paint a worse picture than it is, but we have had problems over the years,” Blankenship said.

There have been fights among passengers or between passengers and drivers. Men who have had too much to drink have been known to make unwelcome advances on women riding a late bus home from work. Other problems have included vandalism to seats and, most unsavory of all, a recent complaint about a man “enjoying” himself by touching himself in an inappropriate way on a public bus, Blankenship said.

The RFTA board gave Blankenship the latitude to make sure RFTA’s employees and passengers travel safely. He believes installing the surveillance cameras can deliver.

“We’re going to ease into it because we don’t have the resources to jump into it,” said Blankenship. Installing camera in all buses, park-and-ride lots and other facilities would cost $600,000. RFTA cannot foot such a hefty bill at once, so it will phase in the cameras when it purchases new buses.

Blankenship said his research indicates four cameras are needed on a bus to provide adequate coverage. The first buses with cameras are scheduled to be delivered Friday. After drivers are trained to handle the new buses, which are longer than most now in RFTA’s fleet, the vehicles will be on routes by late December.

Blankenship said the cameras will produce video tapes that have a certain amount of “shelf life.” He wasn’t certain how long. RFTA officials won’t regularly review the tapes, but they will be able to refer to them if a complaint is filed or if a problem occurs.

Blankenship said he hopes the the cameras prove to be a deterrent to any of the traditional problems.

“We’re not wanting to catch people. We’re wanting to deter people,” he said.

He noted that theft from vehicles has been a problem in some park-and-ride lots, like El Jebel. Hopefully, greater scrutiny will reduce break-ins and reassure bus riders it’s safe to leave their cars, he said.

The surveillance won’t be used to bust petty offenders, such as people enjoying a frosty beer on their way home from work, Blankenship said. His board stressed to him that the cameras are to be used only to ensure the protection of employees, passengers and property. The board doesn’t want it used to arrest illegal immigrants or harass responsible people simply enjoying an alcoholic beverage.

“If there’s an abuse they’re going to hold me accountable,” Blankenship said. “They did not authorize a witch hunt.”

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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