City May End 'School Bus Cam' Program Started Two Years Ago

posted by 1200 WOAI -

A program designed to make school zones and school buses safer, which was begun with great fanfare by the City two years ago, may now be in the process of being quietly cancelled, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The program involved allowing school districts to contract with a private company to mount cameras on the sides of school buses, with the goal of photographing and mailing civil fines of up to $300 to motorists who were passing parked school buses.

But City Council's Public Safety Committee was told that of the five school districts who have participated in the program, none of them has received a penny of the revenue from the more than $2 million in civil fines that have been collected from motorists.

Police Chief Bill McManus says all of the money collected has gone to the private company operating the cameras, and he also reported that owners of vehicles who have been photographed committing the violations have reported that they have been harassed by the company to pay 'excessive late fees and have been threatened with civil action,' which is not allowed under the City's program.

By far the largest school district to participate in the program was the North East ISD, which reported 27,625 violations during the 2016-2017 school year.

A police department report shows $4.3 million in fines were assessed but barely one third of that money was collected, and $0 went to the district.

Councilman Clayton Perry, who represents the NEISD area, says his office has been deluged with calls about improper behavior by the private company that operates the cameras.

"They don't feel like they have been given their day in court, if you will, about this," he said.  "I am very skeptical about this, especially seeing all those zeros up there."

NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor says it is unfortunate the company that brought this technology to their buses was unable to run the program and ultimately failed.

"During the first full year of operation we observed a significant reduction in the number of illegal bus passing incidents. We hope the city does not overturn the ordinance because it could decrease student safety at bus stops across the entire city which would be a big disappointment for San Antonio school bus safety in general."

McManus says all five districts in the program plan to continue it with a new vendor, but Perry says he has doubts whether that will happen.

"Why do we have this ordinance, if they (the districts) are supposed to be getting a share of this, and they're not," he said.

McManus says his officers are effectively patrolling school zones, and handing out real tickets to drivers who violate the law.  He says his officers in 2017 ticketed 12,249 drivers for speeding in school zones, and hundreds more for using cell phones in school zones and passing stopped school buses.

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