CITYWIDE — Robert Arroyo had a problem.
A frequent rider of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus system, Arroyo was noticing what he considered to be poor driving habits amongst some of the bus drivers, which he dutifully reported to the Big Blue Bus administration.
When a complaint gets filed, BBB officials pull video footage from the cameras placed on board each of their buses and review it to determine whether or not the driver was in error, or the rider just over-sensitive.
Rather than getting a “yes/no” answer, however, administrators responded to Arroyo’s complaints with a solid “I don’t know.”
For reasons that have not yet been determined, the cameras placed in six strategic locations on each Big Blue Bus have been on the fritz, erasing or simply not recording material throughout the day.
It might never have been discovered if not for Arroyo, said Fred Gilliam, acting director of the BBB.
“We were having an unusual number of incidents reported, and were pulling a lot more video than we normally would have,” Gilliam said. “That number creates opportunity for more to fail. The odds of us identifying this as a problem without pulling that many are small.”
That “unusual number” was 107 complaints in the month of July alone, 85 of which originated from Arroyo.
It’s BBB policy to inform the person who files complaints about their status, specifically if the matter has been closed out, either through dismissal or driver discipline.
In Arroyo’s case, the complaints were getting closed but on the basis that the cameras weren’t working. Incensed e-mailing ensued.
“We started inquiring and asking questions and discovered that, particular to this case, eight or nine stated that the cameras did not work,” Gilliam said. That was nine complaints in a single day.
Although the cause of the malfunction hasn’t yet been confirmed, the administration has some guesses.
One is the relative age of the cameras.
In July 2004, the Santa Monica City Council approved a $1.3 million expenditure for security cameras for 125 buses.
The stated goal, according to city staff, was to reduce vandalism and graffiti, improve security, provide information on driver and passenger disputes and lower fraudulent claims.
Even then, the cameras got some push back.
Then Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown resisted the expenditure on moral grounds.
Prior to the installation of the cameras, the administration relied on undercover police officers and other passenger testimony to substantiate complaints.
Although those techniques are still used, the BBB is highly reliant on the cameras to deal with complaints, Gilliam said.
A second theory revolves around the BBB’s policy of shutting down the bus while waiting to go out for service rather than polluting the air with long idling times. Each time the bus starts up again, the cameras reboot, which can take several minutes.
It appears that some cameras are either rebooting slowly or failing to reboot, which is likely causing some of the discrepancies, Gilliam said.
Arroyo is not so sure.
“Half of the eight complaints involved buses that were on the road for quite a while,” Arroyo told Gilliam in an e-mail, which he forwarded to the media.
In response, Gilliam said, the BBB will seek out a contractor to run an analysis on the cameras to see if the problem can be diagnosed.
That will take approximately a month to get through City Hall’s requisition process.