Virginia School Board Wrestles With School Bus Safety Profiteering
An article by Daily Press reporter Jane Hammond describes a way the Newport News schools could greatly improve the safety of school children boarding and disembarking from school buses and increase their revenues at the same time. How? Through a “profit sharing” scheme devised by an imaginative entrepreneur:
If contracted, a vendor would install the cameras on 30 percent or 100 percent of the division’s bus fleet, depending on which vendor was used, Coates said. Once they were in operation, the camera would capture an image of the offending driver’s license plate with the stop-arm employed, which would be transmitted to the vendor.
The image would be reviewed to determine if it was in violation of the law, and if so, it would be sent to Newport News police to approve the infraction. The vendor would then mail a citation to the offender, who would then either pay the fine or contest it in court.
Under most payment models, Coates said, the vendor would retain 60 percent of the profit from the fines, with NNPS collecting the other 40 percent.
And here’s some data presented in the article that indicates that this is a bona fide safety issue:
During a three-month pilot conducted last year using six buses, 703 violations were captured at 93 different stops, Shay Coates, director of transportation, told the School Board last week. This was the third pilot of stop-arm cameras the division has done, he said.
Every time a driver violates the laws requiring them to stop when children are boarding or exiting a bus it puts the lives of this children in jeopardy. And this new camera technology makes it possible to credibly identify drivers who violate the law in the same way cameras posted at intersections can identify cars who run red lights or cameras can capture the license plates of cars who illegally drive through EZ Pass gates. Furthermore, the public doesn’t want to pay more money for law enforcement nor do they want to pay more money for schools. So… if a creative entrepreneur can find a way to make a profit and increase the revenue of a public school, why not do it?
Several School Board members expressed their interest in investing in the cameras, and some suggested promoting the stop-arm law through public safety announcements and drivers’ education courses. North District member Douglas Brown was the sole dissenting voice.
“I have a lot of grave concerns in terms of the implementation and in terms of having an unelected private corporation collecting fees and fines from citizens,” Brown said. “The trouble is if the private corporation says you didn’t pay, what recourse do you have as a citizen?
“We’re in the business of education, and I don’t like to see us get in the business of law enforcement. … Alienating the public and creating that kind of animosity is not a way to solve the problem, and it creates other long-range problems that I think could come up.”
This is one of several issues where there is no easy answer… and when no easy answer exists the tendency is to gravitate toward the answer that will cost taxpayers the least amount of money. That’s why we are willing to trade 24/7 surveillance by cameras on the streets for police on the beat and cameras on buses and in school corridors for more personnel. And that’s why Newport News drivers will soon be receiving bills for traffic violations from a vendor hired by the public schools.