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NICE plans video cameras in buses

NICE Bus recently installed video cameras inside buses

NICE Bus recently installed video cameras inside buses that will turn on whenever there is sudden movement--such as hard braking, a sharp turn, or an accident. (June 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Chris Ware

Nassau County's bus operator plans to install video cameras inside all NICE system vehicles in an effort to curb drivers' bad habits and cut fuel costs. But the head of the bus drivers union said she's not thrilled about having "Big Brother" on board.

Using technology designed by San Diego-based Smart DriveSystems, two small cameras inside each Nassau Inter County Express bus will be triggered by jarring movements like hard braking, sudden acceleration or sharp turns. One camera will be pointed at the driver, the other at the road ahead.

The cameras continuously record, but only save video of the moments immediately before such incidents. SmartDrive will review the recordings and send reports on NICE Bus driver trends.

"We're . . . looking for the riskiest behavior," SmartDrive president Jason Palmer said. "If you think about game films for professional athletes, these are game films for professional drivers."

Rapid starts, high speed and sudden stops can reduce fuel efficiency, officials said.

The cameras are supplemented by a display that lets a driver know how much fuel is being consumed.

The systems cost from $700 to $850 per vehicle, plus monthly service fees ranging from $40 to $60 per vehicle, according to SmartDrive. Officials with Veolia Transportation, the private company operating NICE Bus, said employees will undergo training before the system is activated later this year.

NICE Bus chief executive Michael Setzer said the cameras will not be used for surveillance of drivers and passengers.

Veolia contracted with SmartDrive last year to install cameras in the more than 200 bus systems it operates in North America.

Setzer said he expects the camera program to decrease fuel costs by 3 percent to 4 percent, which could mean more than $15,000 a month in savings for NICE Bus, and provide safer, smoother rides for passengers.

Patricia Bowden, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 252, which represents about 800 NICE Bus employees, said she was skeptical of Veolia's intentions, and called the projected fuel savings estimates "far-fetched."

She said she fears Veolia will use recorded video, out of context, against the most senior drivers to "push them out" and replace them with lower-paid drivers. Setzer denied that claim.

"I feel this is something to distract drivers rather than help them," Bowden said. "They should be concentrating on the road, and not on what a camera is doing."

Setzer said drivers will get used to the technology, and it will eventually become their "best friend." And, if an accident occurs, recorded video can show a bus driver wasn't at fault, he said.

Andre Colaiace, deputy executive director for Access Services, which provides buses for the disabled in Los Angeles, said SmartDrive has been "very successful" in reducing accidents and legal claims since it was installed on that fleet in 2010.

A driver can also manually activate the camera to record, including during disputes with passengers, Setzer said.

NICE Bus rider April Mitchell of Valley Stream said she wouldn't mind seeing more accountability for bus drivers, who she said sometimes drive too fast and dangerously.

"If they know the video camera is there, they'll act better," said Mitchell, 20, a Nassau Community College student, after stepping off the N4 bus Wednesday.

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