New Security Cameras Are Being Installed on 225 MBTA Buses

They feature a monitor with four screens, so riders nearby can also see what's happening.

It’s not just “Big Brother” watching riders anymore.

The MBTA is retrofitting 225 buses in its fleet with new high-tech cameras that show the insides of the vehicles from multiple angles. Not only will the transit authority be able to get a better look at who’s riding the bus, but each installation includes a four-screen monitor housed at the front of the vehicles, affording other riders utilizing the transit system a chance to see what’s happening during their commute.

So far, only 10 vehicles have been retrofitted with the new devices, but MBTA officials said by summertime 215 more vehicles will feature the same updated technology.

Money to pay for the cameras came in the form of a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The MBTA is relying completely on the nearly $7 million allocation to purchase and install the cameras and multi-view surveillance screens. The T spent none of its own money on this particular project, officials said.

Some of the money will also be used to upgrade cameras in 200 other vehicles, according to officials, but those new devices will not feature the multi-screen monitors that are visible to passengers. Both sets of the new installations will allow T Police to download footage from the buses wirelessly, however, once the new systems are in place.

“The new security systems are designed to enhance safety for both customers and employees,” said MBTA Spokesman Joe Pesaturo. He said currently, many MBTA buses already have cameras on board, but the number of video surveillance devices varies depending on the vehicle and route. The MBTA has existing cameras in roughly one-third of its entire fleet.

“The decisions [were] based on a cost [and] benefit analysis of the future life spans of current fleets…to maximize the benefit of this [Department of Homeland Security] investment,” said Pesaturo.

While officials would not say if the new installations are directly connected to a recent spate of assaults, the camera upgrades come not long after the T saw a sharp increase in attacks on transit operators behind the wheel. Last year, the T launched an aggressive flier campaign by placing message boards on various buses reminding riders to respect, and not touch, the drivers. That campaign was followed up by another push to prevent passengers from laying a hand on T employees, which featured decals placed on the backs of bus seats warning commuters that assaulting or interfering with a driver’s duties could lead to arrest.

From January through April of 2013, there were 28 reported assaults on MBTA employees, which prompted general manager Dr. Beverly Scott to write a letter to workers expressing her condolences about the attacks. The number of assaults hit 50 by June. The attacks ranged from spitting on drivers, to punching and kicking, and were often prompted by a driver’s refusal to let passengers board because they couldn’t pay the fare. Other attacks were seemingly unprovoked.

At the time Scott wrote the letter, she said the T would be pushing the legislature to enact stronger punishments for those that assaulted public employees, and said management and labor employees were committed to working collaboratively to solve the problem. Scott also said she would be working together with departments across the transit agency to find additional preventative safety measures. One idea was to put partitions between drivers and boarding customers, but that concept has not come to fruition.