Commissioners Debate School Bus Monitoring Systems

Commissioners Debate School Bus Monitoring Systems
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SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to introduce legislation that will allow Worcester County to install school bus monitoring systems despite numerous questions.

The Worcester County Commissioners this week agreed to introduce legislation that will allow the school system to install school bus monitoring systems on buses used in Worcester County. The company providing the system will issue citations to drivers who illegally pass school buses.

While several commissioners voiced support for the concept, there were numerous questions regarding the program’s cost and the revenue that it could potentially produce. They asked that the company recommended by the school system, BusPatrol, attend to answer questions when a public hearing is hosted for the bill next month.

“I’ve got a lot of questions on this,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.

Lt. Robert Trautman of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Kim Heiser, the school system’s transportation manager, met with the commissioners Tuesday. They asked that the commissioners introduce enabling legislation that would allow the county to work with the company BusPatrol to get school bus monitoring systems. The systems, which are similar to red light cameras, would be installed on school buses and would activate when bus lights activate to capture video of cars illegally passing the bus. Trautman said the company would send the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office the video electronically and deputies would certify that a violation had occurred. Once they do that, they’ll provide BusPatrol with the vehicle’s ownership information.

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“The vendor issues the violation citation,” he said.

Elder, a retired bus driver, said he knew the cameras were needed because vehicles often passed school buses when they shouldn’t. He said he had extreme reservations, however, about private companies getting involved in law enforcement.

“I would have liked to see the investment into these cameras years ago rather than monitoring drivers with cameras inside,” he said.

Heiser said the cameras were needed because more and more vehicles weren’t stopping when they saw the bus lights come on.

“It’s becoming a very big problem,” she said.

Heiser said the cameras would come at no cost to the county. She said BusPatrol would install them and in exchange the revenue from the $250 citations would be split with 60% going to the company and 40% coming back to Worcester County. That 40% would be split between the school system and the sheriff’s office. She said the cameras were used in various other counties throughout Maryland.

Trautman said they were similar to the red light cameras that were in use in numerous areas as well. Elder pointed out that there had been proven issues with red light cameras.  He added that he didn’t like the fact that BusPatrol would get the video footage before the sheriff’s office did.

“Video can be tampered with,” he said.

Roscoe Leslie, the county’s attorney, pointed out that there were state laws covering bus monitoring programs and that Worcester simply needed enabling legislation.

“There’s state law that authorizes and governs these programs,” he said.

When questioned further about the revenue sharing, Heiser said the revenue split would occur after a monthly technology fee had been covered by the money from the citations. She said the fee was $150 a month per bus.

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked how the company would get its money back if Worcester only yielded two citations a month for example.

“They are not,” Heiser said. “They’re making their money in the large counties.”

According to Trautman, in the last three years the county has issued about 30 citations to drivers illegally passing school buses. Heiser said a daily survey, however, showed that bus drivers saw numerous violators. She said four buses had reported 19 situations of illegal passing on Monday.

Commissioner Bud Church said that on his daily drives on Coastal Highway, he saw many people passing buses.

“It’ll pay for itself just out of Ocean City,” he said.

Elder asked what percentage of the revenue the bus drivers would get, since they owned the buses. Heiser said they’d get nothing.

“Typical,” Elder said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he thought the cost breakdown of the program needed to be straightened out. He said he wasn’t sure anyone would be making money once the $150 monthly fee per bus was taken out. The school system has more than 80 buses.

Others said they wanted to hear from BusPatrol.

“We need to have them in here,” Bertino said.

Elder assured the commissioners there would be plenty of violations captured by the cameras but said he still didn’t like the fact the company was getting involved in local law enforcement.

“I still have serious issues about private companies getting involved in law enforcement,” he said.

Heiser stressed that the program was meant to increase safety in the county.

“What we’re looking for here is the safety of the children,” she said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.