The Town of Hempstead has issued more than 12,000 tickets for violating school bus stop sign rules, while the Nassau County executive has no plans to implement a countywide school bus camera violations program. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp, Drew Singh, Courtesy BusPatrol

More than 12,000 tickets with a minimum fine of $250 have been issued to drivers since the first week of December as part of a new school bus safety program rolled out in the Town of Hempstead.

But the 886 motorists who want to challenge their violations need to wait until mid-April for their day in Nassau County's traffic court, Newsday has learned after two weeks of inquiries into the adjudication process. Late fees of $25 will be waived in the meantime, Hempstead officials said. 

Touted as a safety measure, the cameras are affixed to the side of buses to catch drivers illegally going around the "stop arm" as children board and exit.

Suffolk County's bus camera program generated $25 million in revenues last year, Newsday reported this month. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • More than 12,000 school bus camera tickets have been issued to drivers in the Town of Hempstead since December.
  • The county's traffic court won't start hearing appeals until mid-April.
  • More Nassau towns and school districts are interested in the cameras and are waiting on guidance to use the traffic court for appeals.

Eileen Perry, a Garden City mom of two school-age children, said she wasn’t surprised at the number of violators because she’s seen drivers, including those in large construction vehicles, blow by school buses.

Asked about the $250 fine, Perry said: “I don’t know if it necessarily needs to be that much, but hopefully it will be a program that’s in place for awhile and deters enough people and hopefully it won’t need to be a permanent thing.”   

Nassau County is required by state law to provide use of its Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, or TPVA, to hear appeals.

That's where Nassau's involvement ends, unlike in Suffolk, where county government assists school districts seeking to install cameras.

Nassau's limited participation has prompted some municipalities to initiate their own programs, leading to a patchwork of school districts opting into separate agreements, a staggered rollout and motorist uncertainty about how to challenge violations.

It also is unclear how municipalities will use the revenues, and whether schools will get any of the money, based on Newsday's questions to town, county and school officials.   

Hempstead first to begin

Hempstead is the only town in Nassau that has fully implemented a school bus camera program. It is managed by BusPatrol America, the Virginia-based company that runs Suffolk's.

Under a contract approved unanimously by the Hempstead town board in January 2022, BusPatrol has installed cameras on buses in 28 school districts that have since opted in. 

Town officials said 967 school buses are equipped with the cameras, and more installations are pending.

The cameras went live in November, and in the first 30 days, 7,223 drivers were mailed warnings.

Violations with fines began Dec. 7. Since then, 12,471 tickets have been issued, town officials said. 

The civil penalties — which do not put points on motorists' records — are paid through an online platform managed by BusPatrol.

Hempstead Town Attorney John Maccarone told Newsday in mid-February no court dates have been scheduled for appeals because the county's traffic court "hasn't been set up yet." 

“Like any project that is rolled out, there are some kinks,” Maccarone said. "It will be several months before all of those tickets are adjudicated."

A spokesman for Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said TPVA will begin hearing appeals in mid-April.

As in Suffolk, revenues are split, with the town getting 55% and BusPatrol receiving 45%, Maccarone said. 

Asked how Hempstead plans to spend the revenue, Maccarone said: "I know there was talk about creating a safety program." 

Out of its revenues, Hempstead Town will send Nassau $18 for each ticket issued, and another $18 if the ticket is contested. 

Several drivers told Newsday the bus camera program caught them by surprise. 

Dessie Cummings of Long Beach said her 30-year-old daughter received a $250 violation on Jan. 6 for driving in the opposite direction, on the other side of the median, from a stopped school bus on Lido Boulevard.

Cummings said her daughter's view was obstructed by a large truck and would like to contest the ticket, which instructed her to contact the county's TPVA. 

“While, of course, we strongly support keeping children safe getting on and off a school bus, I am disappointed there is not a better campaign to inform motorists not only of this technology's rollout, but also the confusing specifics of the law,” Cummings said.

Suffolk County has allowed some exemptions, including for motorists driving opposite a bus on certain divided highways with physical medians.

Jean Soulière, founder of BusPatrol, told Newsday the company worked with Hempstead to raise awareness about the cameras, including by posting signs on roads and providing schools with informational packets. 

Nassau County opted in, then out

Former County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled county legislature had intended to implement a bus camera program like Suffolk's.

Nassau County legislators voted unanimously in 2021 for a resolution to enter into a contract with Verra Mobility, based in Roslyn, to manage a camera program. But no school districts signed up to participate.

Blakeman, a Republican, declined participation when he took office in January 2022.

"This is a town program which the county has nothing to do with except if a case is adjudicated, it would be administered through the Traffic, and Parking Violations Agency," Blakeman said in a statement to Newsday.

"The county has no plans to implement a school bus camera violations program," he said.

The statement did not address why Nassau is not participating in the bus camera program. 

Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford, Public Safety Committee chairwoman, said county oversight would have been the best option, but "at least it hasn't fallen to the wayside and isn't being implemented at all."

"It probably would have been easier to manage if the county was overseeing it, but I'm fine personally if the towns and villages work it out," said Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans.

'Up in the air'

Other municipal officials say they're interested in signing up but are waiting for the county to provide guidance about the use of TPVA.

For instance, North Hempstead Town and the City of Long Beach are reviewing the program.

The Town of Oyster Bay has not yet opted in.

Brian Devine, a spokesman for the Town of North Hempstead, said some school districts are interested, "but until the details with the county TPVA are hammered out, it would be premature for them to opt in as fees, fines, revenue share, etc., are still up in the air.”

 All but six school districts in Hempstead Town have joined. Three of the largest — Freeport, Baldwin and Hempstead — have indicated they would wait to begin, while three others are negotiating with BusPatrol, Soulière said.

The Long Beach School District opted into the program along with the Town of Hempstead, according to Michael DeVito, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

The Farmingdale School District decided to sign up because part of the district is in Suffolk County, Soulière said.

Glen Zakian, Farmingdale's deputy superintendent, said the technology is being installed on buses but the district can’t move forward until Oyster Bay Town opts in.

"It provides us with another border of safety within the district for our students,” Zakian said of the bus camera program.

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