As previously reported, just last week the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to adopt a regulation prohibiting cellphone use by rail transit operators, like those that pilot BART and Muni vehicles. Part of that regulation, however, will require hefty expenditures for those transit agencies, as it demands that cameras are installed to, as SFist puts it, “spy on” drivers.
Last week’s regulation prohibiting the use of cellphones by rail transit operators made permanent an interim emergency order issued in September 2008, after an injury collision between two Muni light-rail vehicles near AT&T Park in June of that year.
CPUC investigations found that the crash was likely caused in part by train operators using their cellphones just prior to impact.
In October 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration also adopted an emergency order banning the use of cellphones and similar items by rail transit operators.
While some transit agencies operating in the Bay Area, including Caltrain and Amtrak, are covered by the federal policy, others like BART, Muni, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority are under the state’s authority.
The regulation passed by the CPUC expands the cellphone prohibition to all wireless or portable electronic devices, and also requires the installation of inward-facing cameras to make sure train operators are following the rule.
It’s the camera portion of the rule that has agencies checking the couch cushions for change: as the Ex reports, BART spokesperson Jim Allison says it will cost the agency $600,000 to outfit its 289 trains.
The Ex reports that Muni has yet to come up with an estimated cost to install such cameras in all 151 of its light-rail vehicles, and is still determining whether or not the order applies to their historic streetcar and cable car fleets.
Muni had previously installed similar equipment in the operator booths of its bus fleets in 2009 for a cost of $1.2 million.
“It’s currently policy that our operators are not to use cellphones while they’re operating vehicles,” Muni spokesman Paul Rose said, while Allison said BART also has strict prohibitions in place.
Nevertheless, CPUC officials said requiring agencies to install the cameras in the cabs of trains will increase the safety of rail crews and passengers by ensuring effective enforcement of the cellphone policy.
The order to install the cameras in the train cabs is the first of its kind in the nation, providing a new level of accountability, according to the CPUC. Agencies have three years to install the cameras.
The rule specifies that video recordings from the cameras must be reviewed as part of a regular compliance program, not just after an accident. It also institutes a zero-tolerance program, with consequences for operators including possible discharge from their position.
Reviews of the new policy are mixed: while Rose told the Chron “this regulation will help further efforts to ensure that rail passengers across the state are as safe as possible,” MTA board president Tom Nolan told the Ex that “This seems like it could be a huge expense for a relatively infrequent occurrence.”