PEI·Exclusive

P.E.I. school bus cameras effectiveness questioned

Officials with the P.E.I. Department of Transportation and the English Language School Board have questioned the effectiveness of the exterior cameras on school buses, CBC News has learned through a Freedom of Information request,

Department of Transportation says camera technology 'probably outdated'

The exterior cameras are positioned to capture a licence plate travelling either direction, at speeds up to 90 km/hr, according to the manufacturer. (CBC)

Officials with the P.E.I. Department of Transportation and the English Language School Board have questioned the effectiveness of the exterior cameras on school buses, CBC News has learned through a Freedom of Information request.

Concerned mother Jamie Doucette wants to know where the buses with cameras are on P.E.I., after reading about the 2011 Transportation project. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

The cameras were installed by the Department of Transportation in 2011 and were to be used as a tool to nab offenders passing buses when red lights are flashing. The idea was to get pictures of the licence plates.

The topic of school bus cameras came up again recently when Jamie Doucette's father shot a video of cars passing his granddaughter's bus stopped on Highway 2 in Brookfield.​

Doucette read about the project that installed cameras on at least 10 school buses in 2011. She wanted to know what happened.

"Where are these buses?" said Doucette. "Do these buses exist on P.E.I.?"

Video shows traffic zipping past a stopped school bus in Brookfield, P.E.I. 0:28

Released emails show problems

Emails received by CBC News through an access to information request show officials questioned the effectiveness of the cameras installed on the buses several times through 2013 and 2014.

There needs to be something done ASAP. This is getting worse not better.— frustrated school bus driver 

In a February 2013 email John Cummings, the director of corporate services with the English Language School Board wrote, "We haven't had a lot of success with the cameras. The issue seems to be getting a clear shot of the plate." 

That email was sent a year-and-a-half after the cameras were installed. 

Cummings also wrote in that email that he checked with the former Western School Board and was told when video evidence of a driver passing a bus was submitted to the Summerside Police no action was taken against the driver.

Camera company sent technician to tackle problems 

In May 2013 Catherine MacKinnon, the English Language School Board's coordinator of transportation, emailed that a technician from the camera manufacturer was coming P.E.I. to get to the bottom of the issue with poor video image quality.

Licence plates cannot be read, driver characteristics can't be identified.— Bruce MacMillan, government garage bus supervisor 

Initially, the outcome of the visit sounded positive. The bus supervisor at the government garage, Bruce MacMillan, wrote that new information and insight into the technology had been gained. 

But by October 2013, a school bus driver wrote an email to the board frustrated that charges weren't laid in an incident that had just happened.

"I lost the chance to have someone clearly convicted for going through my red lights," wrote the driver. He suggested that was because the cameras weren't aimed properly.

"I had two different people go through today. There needs to be something done ASAP. This is getting worse not better. I apologize if I sound angry but … I don't want to be that driver that one of my students gets seriously injured or killed because no one is taking a proactive approach," he wrote. 

In a response to the driver, MacKinnon wrote the board is "currently working with the company on resolving these issues." 

Poor image quality remained a concern in 2014

The three-camera system on school buses was meant to capture licence plates of offenders, making prosecution easier, according to P.E.I. Department of Transportation. (CBC)

The emails show image quality remained a concern by March 2014. The bus supervisor at the government garage wrote he did not feel the camera system was useful for convicting offenders passing school buses. 

"We do not feel it would be of use to enforce traffic violations. Licence plates cannot be read, driver characteristics can't be identified," wrote Bruce MacMillan. 

In the emails CBC obtained, spanning 2011 to 2014, there is no suggestion the cameras led to any fines.

CBC learned last week there have been five fines in the last three years handed out to drivers for passing school buses illegally, but the Department of Transportation says it cannot confirm if any of these involved evidence from school bus cameras. The school board declined to speak to CBC News about this story.

'Five charges in three years probably aren't a lot'

"Five charges in three years probably aren't a lot," said Doug MacEwen, the highway safety coordinator with Transportation.

He told CBC News this week that most of the cameras are still in use. MacEwen said there are about the same number of cameras now, but some of the software is not functioning.

"The technology is probably outdated at this time," said MacEwen.

"It probably needs to be renewed, and get something that will create a more clearer, vivid image."

Doug MacEwen, Transportation's Highway Safety Coordinator, says the department is exploring buying a new school camera system. (CBC )

Despite concerns over the cameras, MacEwen defended the overall safety record.

"The school bus cameras have been reasonably effective for what they're intended to do," said MacEwen.

"Sometimes all it takes is the idea that a camera is there."

​MacEwen said the Department of Transportation is considering buying new, more up-to-date cameras for school buses, but said that decision is pending. 

The camera company declined to do an interview. 

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