Cameras catching everything on Central Okanagan buses, but is it enough?

"Drivers are still getting assaulted," said Scott Lovell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1722.

Security cameras have been installed in buses in the Central Okanagan.

Cameras are recording everything going on both inside and outside all regional buses, but that’s yet to put an end to the abuse drivers are suffering.

“Drivers are still getting assaulted,” said  Scott Lovell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1722, adding that most assaults, not all, are verbal.

“We are, of course, calling for the second part of the (previous bus enhancement) announcement to be put into place.”

When news of the cameras was first announced in June, transit officials said they were also going to be installing shields around the driver’s seat on buses in the beginning of October, on a trial basis.

That has yet to happen and Lovell said he’d like to see it sooner than later.

“We also want some form of transit security force,” he said, adding that it’s not a popular proposal.

“Nobody else wants that. The City doesn’t want it and RCMP say we don’t need it. “

Lovell said bus drivers have a differing view than the powers that be because they can see firsthand that cameras aren’t a deterrent.

“We are still getting a substantial amount of verbal abuse all the time. The cameras record everything, the sound and the video, which are very clear,” he said. “But they’re not really a deterrent. They’re something we can look at after the fact.”

The budget to equip the Kelowna buses with this new technology is $235,000. Installation of the cameras began in August 2016. Between six and ten cameras will be installed on each bus depending on the size: four to eight on the inside of the buses and two on the exterior of the buses. There is no live monitoring of video, as footage will only be viewed by authorized security staff following a reported incident. Only video required for security purposes will be retained – all other video will be erased.

“The funding allocated for transit improvements, including technology upgrades like the installation of CCTV cameras on buses, shows this government’s commitment to making public transit safe and accessible for Kelowna residents,” said Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick.

“Now, transit users can rest assured that we have systems in place to deter crime and promote safety.”

Funding for the initiative comes from the Government of Canada and Province of B.C. under the recent bilateral agreement that will result in more than $900 million being invested in public transit projects throughout the province.

“It’s essential that people feel safe and secure on our transit system,” said MLA for Kelowna-Mission Steve Thomson. “At the same time, we want to assure riders that their privacy is protected since video footage will only be viewed in the case of an incident requiring investigation by police and in accordance with privacy laws.”

The issue of increased security came to the fore in October 2014 when Caesar Rosales was killed by a fellow passenger, he’d never met or spoken to. His killer was sentenced to seven years.

Despite this, the city says their study shows people don’t feel afraid on area transit.

“A rider survey this year showed that people feel safe on transit in Kelowna, and these cameras will help add to that secure feeling,” said Jerry Dombowsky, Transit and Programs Manager with the City of Kelowna.

“Drivers and transit riders should know that we continue to work in partnership to look at new and innovative ways to improve security.”