Thunder Bay

'Cameras don't lie': Thunder Bay City Council to discuss adding cameras to school buses

A Thunder Bay city councillor is asking administration to look into implementing stop-arm cameras on school buses.

School bus company says drivers speed past stopped buses — and the numbers don't tell the full story

A Thunder Bay city councillor is asking city administration to look into the installation of stop-arm cameras on school buses. (Supplied by BusPatrol)

A Thunder Bay city councillor is asking administration to look into implementing stop-arm cameras on school buses.

Westfort Coun. Kristen Oliver is bringing the matter forward at Monday's meeting. If councillors approved her resolution, the report would also include the costs associated with a stop-arm camera program.

"It's sort of an interesting position to be in in the sense that municipalities, in essence, are the ones that have to make the decision if they want to allow these cameras ... within their municipal boundary, recognizing, though, that we do not own the school bus infrastructure," Oliver said.

"So there's a few things at play here that the city really needs to investigate further and determine the best way forward."

Oliver's also a parent to school-age children, and chair of the city's police services board, and hears concerns about school bus safety from residents.

"When we're talking about ensuring that our children are getting safely to school, this is something that we need to look at," she said. 

Ontario passed legislation in September 2019 that allows municipalities to install the cameras, which are designed to capture images of any vehicles that pass a school bus while its lights are flashing, and stop-arm extended.

A ticket would then be sent to the vehicle's registered owner.

Thunder Bay police said since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, seven people have been charged in the city for passing a school bus illegally.

However, there were 18 other incidents which were unable to proceed to charges due to a lack of evidence.

A police spokesperson said in a statement "a camera, properly utilized, could provide investigators with additional evidence to help advance an investigation."

Craig Murphy, manager of Student Transportation Services of Thunder Bay (STSTB), said the police numbers don't capture the full magnitude of the problem, as only a small portion of drivers who pass school buses illegally are charged.

"We ask our local school bus drivers to report any instances of vehicles violating the stop arm of a stopped school bus, and we're still seeing a significant number of reports coming in from those drivers," he said.

Since the start of the school year in early September, drivers have reported about 245 incidents of vehicles passing school buses illegally, Murphy said.

However, very detailed information is required to make a police report, he said.

Report due back in September

"In order to make a report to police, you need to have a detailed description of the vehicle," Murphy said. "The make, the model, the license plate, description of the driver, time of day, exact location, which are a lot of details to get from a vehicle speeding past."

"Quite often, it's not possible to get all those details, especially for a school bus driver who is trying to control the movements of the students at the stop."

Stop-arm cameras, Murphy said, would be able to capture all the needed information, and Ontario's updated legislation allows video footage to be used as evidence.

"Cameras don't lie, and cameras capture every bit of information," Murphy said.

If council approves the resolution on Monday, a report would be due back by September 2022.

However, Oliver said she will look into whether that time frame could be shortened.