The Appeal inbox just got hit with a press release from Muni that seems to be about some new Muni camera system that they say should improve safety. However, reading it left us with more questions than answers. Rather than wait and wait and wait (we’re still waiting on Muni video from April, we’ve been waiting on questions about Muni’s passenger communication standards since August, and we were told they’d be able to get a question from today answered for us “in a few weeks”) for Muni to agree to answer our questions about this release, we’ve decided to ask them here — and we hope you’ll join us! Here’s the release, with our questions below. What are yours (please keep them focused on this release — we’ll do open season on Muni questions later this week, stay tuned!)?

SFMTA Implements DriveCam System to Improve Muni Safety

San Francisco–The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the Municipal Railway (Muni), today announced that it has installed and activated DriveCam, a driver risk mitigation system, in all of its trolley, biodiesel and biodiesel-electric hybrid buses, to help improve safety on the transit system.

“This state-of-the-art system is an important new tool to improve the safe operation of Muni vehicles,” said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., SFMTA Executive Director/CEO. “The activation of DriveCam represents a continuation of the ongoing commitment to the safe and reliable operation of Muni.”

The DriveCam system uses interior and exterior cameras to record collisions and other unsafe driving behavior. The cameras record and download a few seconds of footage before and after an incident when the vehicle experiences an exceptional force, such as hard breaking or swerving. These recordings will be used for safety investigations and Operator instruction.

The SFMTA will use DriveCam as a tool to improve driving behavior, assess liability from collisions and reduce expenses incurred from such incidents that can include vehicle damage, worker’s compensation and personal injury.

“Operators who engage in unsafe behavior must be trained or disciplined,” said James Dougherty, SFMTA Director of Safety, Security and Enforcement. “DriveCam will serve as a vital component of our training system.”

The $1.2 million contract covers the installation of the equipment and a one-year subscription to the DriveCam service which includes technical support analysis.

judsonwatch.jpg So, here are our questions:

— Since we’re all about open government now, in what format are DriveCam results going to be released to the public?

— Since we’re all about open government now, in what format will DriveCam footage be released to the public?

— How long will the footage be retained before it’s deleted?

— The MTA says “The cameras record and download a few seconds of footage before and after an incident.” How does the camera tell the future?

— When Dougherty says “Operators who engage in unsafe behavior must be trained or disciplined,” how will they be disciplined? How are drivers disciplined now?

— How were you able to get these cameras all installed when you haven’t been able to install working cameras in over half our transit fleet?

— Wouldn’t the current cameras do this already, that is, capture footage before and after an accident, as well as all other times)?

— Is this system intended to replace the other cameras on the buses, like the half that do work, and the double parking cameras? (This seems like a lot of fucking cameras for one bus, doesn’t it?)

— How will they ensure that these cameras are actually working?

— How much money has been budgeted to maintain the cameras? If they break, will they be fixed, or just stay broken like this ticket machine?

— What happens when the $1.2 million 1-year subscription runs out?

— How much “technical support analysis” does that subscription include?

Those questions are just off the top of our heads — how about you? If you find this release as perplexing as we do, ask your questions about it in the comments. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get an answer. Muni, don’t make us go out and get a lawyer, now.

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • Jackson West

    Regarding, “The cameras record and download a few seconds of footage before and after an incident,” it simply means that video will probably be set on saving only, say, the last few minutes, and when an “incident” occurs, will then save the following few minutes occurs. So, it will have a few minutes recorded before a timestamp, then a few more minutes recorded after, but will generally just have a rolling windowed of actual recorded footage.

    So the real question is, how does it know when an “incident” occurs? Because while you could certainly peg it to all sorts of recordable metrics (a trolley losing it’s grip on the overhead lines, a collision, an unanticipated delay in service as registered by GPS and route logs), that doesn’t mean that it will catch every potentially awkward (or lethal) situation.

  • Jackson West

    Regarding, “The cameras record and download a few seconds of footage before and after an incident,” it simply means that video will probably be set on saving only, say, the last few minutes, and when an “incident” occurs, will then save the following few minutes occurs. So, it will have a few minutes recorded before a timestamp, then a few more minutes recorded after, but will generally just have a rolling windowed of actual recorded footage.

    So the real question is, how does it know when an “incident” occurs? Because while you could certainly peg it to all sorts of recordable metrics (a trolley losing it’s grip on the overhead lines, a collision, an unanticipated delay in service as registered by GPS and route logs), that doesn’t mean that it will catch every potentially awkward (or lethal) situation.

  • rgm

    Isn’t Muni already in the red? Where did the $1.2 million come from?

  • rgm

    Isn’t Muni already in the red? Where did the $1.2 million come from?

  • Erik

    Probably it constantly stores and overwrites the last few minutes of video until triggers it, at which point the current last few minutes and the next few minutes get permanently stored. There could be a button the driver hits or it could also have an accelerometer or microphone so that loud noises or sharp jolts would set it off. If it is really supposed to catch bad driver behavior then I think it would have to be some kind of automatic trigger.

  • Erik

    Probably it constantly stores and overwrites the last few minutes of video until triggers it, at which point the current last few minutes and the next few minutes get permanently stored. There could be a button the driver hits or it could also have an accelerometer or microphone so that loud noises or sharp jolts would set it off. If it is really supposed to catch bad driver behavior then I think it would have to be some kind of automatic trigger.

  • SF94122

    – Are the project costs, current and future, going to impact available funds or budget for maintenance of on-board safety cameras and recording equipment?
    – Is/Will the DriveCam project delay the maintenance of the onboard safety cameras and recording equipment?
    – Was this decision mandated by the new insurance policy / insurer

    DriveCam website: http://www.drivecam.com/

  • SF94122

    – Are the project costs, current and future, going to impact available funds or budget for maintenance of on-board safety cameras and recording equipment?
    – Is/Will the DriveCam project delay the maintenance of the onboard safety cameras and recording equipment?
    – Was this decision mandated by the new insurance policy / insurer

    DriveCam website: http://www.drivecam.com/

  • Becca Klarin

    The release states that DriveCam will be operable in “all of [Muni’s] trolley, biodiesel and biodiesel-electric hybrid buses”. Are there any Muni vehicles that don’t fit into these three categories?

  • Becca Klarin

    The release states that DriveCam will be operable in “all of [Muni’s] trolley, biodiesel and biodiesel-electric hybrid buses”. Are there any Muni vehicles that don’t fit into these three categories?

  • sunshipballoons

    You could have answered at least some of these questions yourself with only very minimal effort:

    Q: The MTA says “The cameras record and download a few seconds of footage before and after an incident.” How does the camera tell the future?
    A: The camera records all the time, but only downloads (really, uploads) the footage to DriveCam after an incident occurs. Basically, it works like your DVR.

    Q: How were you able to get these cameras all installed when you haven’t been able to install working cameras in over half our transit fleet?
    A: Your numbers are out-of-date. 84% of the safety cameras now work (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/cityinsider/detail?entry_id=50934). In any event, this question is non-sequitur. Obviously, they can install these cameras without installing the crime watch cameras. These are probably more important.

    Q: Wouldn’t the current cameras do this already, that is, capture footage before and after an accident, as well as all other times)?
    A: No, the current cameras only capture what is happening behind the driver. This camera takes a picture of the driver and of what is going on the road in front of the bus. Didn’t you read the press release?

    Q: Is this system intended to replace the other cameras on the buses, like the half that do work, and the double parking cameras?
    A: No.

    Q: How will they ensure that these cameras are actually working?
    A: DriveCam is an international consulting company that monitors cameras in all kinds of commercial and public transit and private vehicles. The cameras send a signal when they are working, and an alert comes on when they stop working. How do you know when your car is low on fuel? This works basically the same way.

  • sunshipballoons

    You could have answered at least some of these questions yourself with only very minimal effort:

    Q: The MTA says “The cameras record and download a few seconds of footage before and after an incident.” How does the camera tell the future?
    A: The camera records all the time, but only downloads (really, uploads) the footage to DriveCam after an incident occurs. Basically, it works like your DVR.

    Q: How were you able to get these cameras all installed when you haven’t been able to install working cameras in over half our transit fleet?
    A: Your numbers are out-of-date. 84% of the safety cameras now work (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/cityinsider/detail?entry_id=50934). In any event, this question is non-sequitur. Obviously, they can install these cameras without installing the crime watch cameras. These are probably more important.

    Q: Wouldn’t the current cameras do this already, that is, capture footage before and after an accident, as well as all other times)?
    A: No, the current cameras only capture what is happening behind the driver. This camera takes a picture of the driver and of what is going on the road in front of the bus. Didn’t you read the press release?

    Q: Is this system intended to replace the other cameras on the buses, like the half that do work, and the double parking cameras?
    A: No.

    Q: How will they ensure that these cameras are actually working?
    A: DriveCam is an international consulting company that monitors cameras in all kinds of commercial and public transit and private vehicles. The cameras send a signal when they are working, and an alert comes on when they stop working. How do you know when your car is low on fuel? This works basically the same way.