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New cameras keep watch on MBTA buses

High-tech systems being installed on busy routes

MBTA driver Abdenour Elmahil waited for passengers at the Broadway bus stop on a bus that was recently outfitted with a camera (above) and video monitor. The images are streamed to monitors in a T dispatch center.DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has begun to install high-definition security cameras and video screens on 225 buses throughout the transit system — one step in a long-term process to bring video surveillance to the entire bus and subway fleet.

The cameras and monitors — which allow riders to watch what’s being captured by the cameras on a screen behind the driver’s cab — are being paid for by a $6.9 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security . The grant, awarded in 2010, is meant to help police purchase equipment to help them respond to emergencies more quickly and aid in criminal prosecutions. The cameras will live-stream footage to the monitors on the buses, as well as to monitors at the T’s bus dispatching center, where footage is recorded and saved for an undisclosed period of time.


In the past three weeks, T staff have installed cameras and digital screens on 10 buses, and a total of 225 buses will be outfitted by the end of the summer. Additionally, 210 more buses will be outfitted with the cameras, without the corresponding video screens, providing high-definition video feeds from about 40 percent of the T’s bus fleet.

Randy Clarke, senior director of security and emergency management for the MBTA, said it is the most extensive surveillance program on a major transit system in the country, with three cameras installed on each bus to provide 360-degree views. Transit officials hope the monitors will serve as a deterrent to crime.

“What we’re trying to do is make everyone on the bus work as an extra set of eyes to help report suspicious behavior or criminal activity,” Clarke said.

Because the cameras are being placed on buses that make frequent trips, two-thirds of the T’s bus trips will be covered with the 435 camera systems.


Eventually, T officials hope to receive funding to place the cameras on all the system’s buses, and on any new train cars, Clarke said, including the $1.3 billion in Red and Orange Line trains expected to be introduced in 2019.

“It would be a natural step to move cameras onto trains as well,” Transit Police Superintendent Joseph O’Connor said.

About 200 buses already have surveillance cameras trained on the fare box, but those versions require T staff to locate the bus and remove the memory drive to view footage.

The new cameras use Verizon’s 4G LTE network to allow the digital video feed inside the bus to be streamed in real time to the T’s bus control center.

“Instead of chasing down hard drives on buses,” Clarke said, “we can see it instantly.”

That video feed will also be available to MBTA Transit Police officers from inside their cruisers. O’Connor said that will help officers better respond to emergency situations. For example, he said, if a driver reports an altercation, police will have a bird’s-eye view to how many people are involved and whether any are armed.

“A lot of our buses are crowded,” O’Connor said. “This will cut through some of the confusion.”

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said the cameras will also help with prosecutions.

“On the front end, they deter crime. Take a look in any bank lobby for proof of that fact,” Conley said. “On the back end, they make it exponentially easier for law enforcement to identify, apprehend, and convict offenders whose crimes are recorded. Functioning cameras are like witnesses with perfect recall, and we see the benefits they offer every day in court.”


O’Connor said the buses that have already been outfitted are on lines known to have crime issues. One of those lines is the Number 23 route, which extends from Ashmont Station to Ruggles Station.

“Although crime is relatively low on buses, the sense of fear that some of our riders have still remains, and we want to reduce that fear,” he said.

On Tuesday, riders eyed a new video monitor with fleeting curiosity. Occasionally, commuters checked themselves out in the monitor, fixing their hair or adjusting a collar.

Several said they were comforted to see the video feed recording their trip, just in case. None said they were concerned about privacy issues.

“It makes it more safe on the bus, and I feel more comfortable knowing that somebody is able to watch if something happens,” said Kaitlin Stonebridge, 22, who commutes from the Fenway to Mattapan.

“I wish they had more,” said Michael Shorey, 48, of Lynn. “I’m surprised the T hasn’t done this sooner.”

Sarah Holden, 25, said the cameras might be most useful as evidence when people crowding onto the bus fail to move to the rear to make space.

“The bus gets wicked crowded,” said Holden, who rides between the South End and Brighton every day. “Now you can look at the video monitor and tell them, ‘Guys, you have so much room back there.’ ”


Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.