New buses aim to improve security


Angela Conners

New buses featuring bigger windows, brighter LED lighting and improved safety features, including 10 surveillance cameras, will be introduced this spring as part of the city’s $205 million plan to overhaul the Chicago Transit Authority bus fleet b 2015.

By Metro Editor

New buses will hit the streets in May with more surveillance cameras to record bus crime, even as privacy advocates question the cameras’ ability to fight crime.

As part of the city’s $205 million plan to overhaul the entire fleet of Chicago Transit Authority buses by 2015, 300 new buses will be in service by May, according to a Feb. 26 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. 

The buses, manufactured by Nova Bus, will replace the 2000 and 2001 Nova Buses currently in use. The new buses will have bigger windows, brighter LED lighting and improved safety features. Barriers separating customers from bus drivers will have a solid, metal base and shatterproof material  for better protection for the driver and the buses will be equipped with 10 surveillance cameras, compared to seven on current buses. 

The cameras are a crime-fighting tool the Chicago Police Department uses to investigate incidents on buses, and the CTA is hopeful that their presence will discourage criminal activity, said CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase. 

“It’s in our public [materials] that we have cameras all over both our buses and trains,” Chase said. “It is a deterrent, but it is also a tool to lead to arrests and convictions, and, ultimately, hopefully keep criminals off our system.” 

Chase said the increased number of bus surveillance cameras reflects the CTA’s ongoing effort to install cameras in all CTA vehicles and stations to make the services safer for customers.

In 2011, 1,800 cameras were installed at rail stations, according to a November 2011 mayoral press release. The cameras have aided the CPD in solving crimes ranging from cell phone theft to murder, according to the press release. 

“We use these cameras very heavily,” Chase said. “Increased security ultimately makes transit safer for our customers. That is the ultimate goal.” 

However, some are worried the use of surveillance cameras infringes people’s rights. Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the additional surveillance cameras infringe on customers’ privacy. 

“A surveillance camera system is present in almost every city, but we’ve never seen anything that is quite as widespread as the system in Chicago,” Yohnka said. “That demands a certain level of oversight and what we hope to see is the city adopt such oversight to ensure that when people walk down the street, their privacy is being protected.” 

Yohnka said he questions the effectiveness of surveillance cameras as crime deterrents because the city has not released public documents detailing how frequently CTA cameras are successfully used to identify criminals, and there have not been many studies proving surveillance cameras are successful. 

“I would not say that there is no credence to the deterrence argument,” Yohnka said.  “I think the real question is, ‘What is the deterrence level we are seeing?’” 

While the city is turning to surveillance cameras to boost safety, there may be more effective strategies to reduce crime on the CTA, said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at University of California, Los Angeles who studies public transportation.  

Loukaitou-Sideris said moving bus stops to more populated streets and avoiding placing stops near bars can prevent crime. 

“Bus stops, unlike train stations, are more movable,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “It has more of this natural surveillance. Where we are locating bus stops does matter. Different types of crimes happen in different types of environmental conditions.” 

Despite the controversy surrounding surveillance cameras’ ability to reduce crimes and privacy, Chase said they are valuable to the CTA.

“It’s an increased crime combatting tool,” Chase said. “The CTA does not have its own police force, so [when] the CPD is …conducting investigations, the video is really helpful.”