Putting brakes on bus passers
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Aug 19, 2013, 12:25
HOPEWELL — Hopewell City Public Schools is looking to increase the safety of the children getting on and off the buses. With the new school year beginning in just a few weeks, Superintendent Dr. John Fahey unveiled to City Council at the meeting on Tuesday night a new program that would crack down on drivers passing buses when they are stopped to load and unload students.
Redflex Student Guardian, a company based in Arizona and serving 220 communities around the country, installs cameras on the school bus stop arm. In addition to working to prevent cars from passing stopped buses, Redflex also works to deter red light running, speeding, running stop signs and crossing railroad tracks while the alarm is activated.
Fahey told council the division has experienced a large number of cars passing stopped school buses. Due to this, a pilot study was done with Redflex over the course of a month, from May 13 to June 13, to determine just how many cars were posing a problem.
For the study, three buses, Bus 16, Bus 12 and Bus 36, had cameras installed on the stop arm. During that month, Bus 16 had 55 violations, Bus 12 had six violations and Bus 36 had eight violations.
In addition to increasing safety for the children in the city, Fahey told council the new system also has the potential to create a revenue stream. Currently, there are 13 localities in the state that are using this type of video enforcement system, Fahey said.
The way the system works, as Fahey explained to council, is that the camera takes pictures of cars that pass the buses. The pictures are then downloaded on a secure site and sent to the Hopewell Police Department. The police department reviews the photos and selects those eligible for a ticket. Redflex receives those pictures and gets the record of the owner of the car and sends the ticket, which has a fine. Fahey said the city stands to get a percentage of the money collected from the fines.
“In looking at the violations and in looking at our 37 buses in Hopewell, depending on the percentage of tickets, the potential is for about $300,000 in fines if it was a high rate,” Fahey said. “Certainly at a rate of 69 a month.”
Fahey also added this new system would not cost the city or the school division any money to install or run. He said the company will install the cameras and the only thing the city needs to do is have an officer review the photos.
Included in a packet of information given to the council members, Redflex laid out the benefits of bringing the cameras to the city, including increased bus drivers’ attention on students instead of trying to obtain a license plate of the violators. Another benefit would be the implementation of fines.
“Fines create a long term deterrent to motorists who pass school buses thus decreasing risk of injury and death,” the packet from Redflex states.
Though the program was presented at the council meeting on Tuesday, it could be another couple months before it is implemented. The program has to be approved by the School Board, the School Board then makes a request resolution from City Council, a route analysis is done to determine the high-risk routes, the units are then installed.
Currently, the city attorney’s office in Hopewell has drafted an ordinance that allows for the cameras to be installed on the buses. The ordinance has to be approved by City Council.
If the program is approved and passes all the necessary steps, Fahey said it will not be sprung on residents in the city. He said there will be a large media campaign to inform people of the installation, including newspaper articles and messages sent out to everyone in the city.
While the city could collect a large amount of funds from the program, Fahey said that is not the intention of the program.
“I’m not into raising money,” Fahey said. “I don’t want any of the money. The money will go to the city. The money belongs in city safety funds. I just want the safety of our kids. Hopefully the message is don’t do it, don’t pass the buses. Our work is to help kids in Hopewell learn well and that’s what we’re going to do and continue to do.”