The goal of the Capital District Transportation Authority’s BusPlus program was never just faster trips on the Route 5 corridor between Schenectady and Albany. It was also to encourage so-called transit oriented development — more people living and more businesses locating along the bus line — and CDTA’s installation of 12 security cameras focused on its shelters in Schenectady (with another three to come) should help.
The cameras have multiple purposes. One is to discourage the vandalism, graffiti, etc., that bus shelters are often subject to. And these are no ordinary shelters, which usually amount to a bench surrounded by some Plexiglas. They’re bigger, fancier and much more expensive (around $75,000 each), with such things as bicycle racks, LED lighting, attractive lettering for the name of the stop, more seating, and electronics that provide riders with real-time information about the next bus.
Besides trying to protect its investment in the shelters, CDTA is trying to make passengers feel safe — not just those who have to use the bus because they have no car, but those who might see it as a more convenient, greener alternative. They are much less likely to try public transit if they’re worried about becoming a crime victim. Safety is crucial, which is why CDTA has cameras on board about 30 percent of its fleet, and expects to eventually have them on all.
The bus shelter cameras also fit in nicely with the array of security cameras (as many as 140) that have been deployed around the city of Schenectady in recent years. Like those, the shelter cams, which show not only the shelter but surrounding traffic, can be monitored live at the police station; and their recorded tapes can, and have, been used to solve crimes.
Even better for Schenectady, it had to pay nothing for the cameras. Eighty percent of the $216,000 cost came from federal funds, with the state and CDTA each contributing 10 percent.
The civil liberties issues have long ago been settled with security cameras in public spaces. Although it’s unfortunate that they’re needed, the cameras are constitutional and very useful in urban areas where crime is a problem.
That’s because if the bad guys know the cameras are there, they’re less likely to commit crimes. And if they don’t know, or don’t care, they’re more likely to get caught. Either way, the good guys are going to feel more secure, which is crucial not only to getting them to take the bus but to live in the city.