Muni to install cameras to make sure operators aren't using cell phones

Muni cameras
A MUNI train stops at Holloway Avenue in front of SF State on Oct. 17, 2011. MUNI recently proposed plans to install cameras in the drivers' cabs to monitor activities. Photo by Jessica Goss.

Most people are finally beginning to understand the dangers of using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. Now, the risk posed by train operators using such devices is becoming equally apparent.

Earlier this month the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to make the use of cell phones and electronic devices illegal for all rail operators on duty. Cameras will be installed in the front of all cabins that do not already have one to make sure the rule is being followed.  All state-run California transportation agencies have been given a deadline of three years to finish the task.

The CPUC passed an emergency order to ban cell phone use three years ago in response to a September 2008 train accident in Southern California, causing 25 deaths and many injuries. Investigators later found that operators of both vehicles involved in the crash were using their cell phones, according to the CPUC.

“The crash occurred in Southern California when a metro passenger train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train,” said Susan Carothers, a spokeswoman for CPUC. “The metro train failed to stop at a red light signal because (the driver) was texting with his cell phone. Six days later the emergency order was passed, and now it’s the law.”

According to the new Muni order, all personal electronics must be turned off and stowed away by any person on duty.

There has been no word yet on the amount of money it will cost to add cameras to all of the rail lines, or if it will cause delays in commuting while the trains are under maintenance.

“Most of the lines already have cameras, but this will require an extra component,” said Paul Rose, a spokesman for Muni. “We’re currently getting proposals and then we will have a better understanding of what the cost will be.”

Cameras will continuously record the operators and the footage will be reviewed not only after accidents, but also during routine spot checks. For some commuters, the amount of money required for this project is far less of a priority than safety.

“Granted we need to spend money on schools and things, but I feel like our safety is something we need to spend money on,” said Stephanie Wangler, a San Francisco commuter. “I support it if it will keep us safe.”

With the deadline not for another three years, the SFMTA has plenty of time to install the new cameras without it having a serious impact on delaying buses for day-to-day commuters.