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Arlington to Consider School Bus Stop-Arm Cameras

by Ethan Rothstein — July 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm 1,698 0

School buses in the Shirlington yard. (File photo)Arlington is looking into installing traffic cameras on the stop arms of its public school buses.

The Arlington County Board will consider advertising a public hearing on the issue at its meeting this Saturday. The proposal follows about six months of work from Arlington Public Schools Security Coordinator Kevin Reardon to develop a plan to install the cameras on 10-20 percent of APS buses with no additional expense to the county.

Virginia passed a law in 2011 that allows municipalities to install cameras on school buses and issue drivers tickets for $250 if they are recorded passing a bus when its stop arm is out. Last fall, Falls Church installed cameras on eight of its 12 school buses, Reardon said. Fairfax County is considering installing the cameras and they are also in use in Montgomery County, Md., where 300 tickets were issued in three months earlier this year.

If the County Board approves the request to advertise, it likely won’t be able to approve the cameras until September, since there is no meeting in August. If it’s approved, APS is expected to seek an outside vendor to install, maintain and operate the cameras. The vendor would receive a substantial percentage of the revenue from the citations as payment, Reardon said.

“In Falls Church, in their first year, the vendor got between 60 and 70 percent of the fine,” Reardon told ARLnow.com today. Another chunk of the revenue will pay the police, who will review the footage and issue the citations.

“I’m sure someone will look at this and say, ‘It’s just the school system trying to make a lot of money,’ and that is not the case. By the time you pay the police and vendor, most of the revenue is gone.”

Reardon said he proposed to earmark the remaining revenue to pay for school safety expenses. The cameras would reduce police expenses, he said, because police will occasionally follow school buses on their routes to ensure drivers aren’t going around the stop-arms.

Falls Church has averaged about one ticket per bus each day, Reardon said, but the citation rate fell essentially every month. Once a motorist is ticketed, a repeat offense is far less likely. He also suggested a 30-day grace period once the cameras are installed — there’s no estimate for when that will happen until the full item goes before the County Board — which would send citations to drivers but not charge them with a fine.

Despite some people’s reluctance to put traffic cameras on the road, Reardon said in his research, reactions to the cameras have been generally positive.

“Most places are very happy with it,” he said. “If you’re passing a school bus on Lee Highway and a child pops out, the child will be hurt severely. Previous to this, the only way we could enforce it is to have the school bus driver jot down the tag and go to court, or the police department is used to follow school buses. Now we’re automating that part of school safety, and we’re going to free the police up to do something else.”

File photo

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