Transit agencies across the U.S. are driven by the security benefits that come with an on-board mobile recording solution. While improved passenger and operator safety are typically the initial motivation for procurement, having a cutting-edge recording solution also provides financial benefits.

A technologically advanced surveillance system should deter crime and reduce fraudulent claims, while also improving operations and lowering maintenance costs. While it can be technologically beneficial to employ an Open Architecture approach, care should be taken to ensure the solution includes upgrade paths, forward and backward compatibility and on-going support. This ensures easy upgrades as agency needs grow and the make-up of fleets change.

These characteristics, along with the ability to integrate future trends and technologies, can greatly increase the long-term financial benefits of a video solution purchase and ensure the return on investment is maximized.

Calculate the Return on Investment

A survey conducted by the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) revealed that 93 percent of surveyed transit agencies reported financial benefits after the installation of video surveillance systems, despite the initial procurement costs.

A five-year theoretical analysis of New Jersey Transit (2007-2011) revealed the implementation of video systems alone had saved more than $700,000 per year in the dismissal of liability claims. Additionally, the Alexandria (Virginia) Transit Company reported a dismissal of nearly 80 percent of customer complaints due to the implementation and successful operation of its on-board mobile video surveillance solution.

As part of an initiative to prevent claim fraud, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) implemented an on-board surveillance solution during the mid-1990s which resulted in a reduction of claims by more than 30 percent, and an estimated savings of more than $2 million annually.

By 2014, SEPTA declared savings of $11 million from frivolous lawsuits due to the placement of surveillance cameras on buses and in stations.

Transit agency respondents from another TCRP survey assert that nearly 30 percent of tort claims are fraudulent. Clearly, a significant decrease in legal expenses can be realized by large and small agencies alike from the dismissal of unfounded claims.

With a fleet size of approximately 1,400 vehicles, SEPTA’s 2015 payout of $27 million for 3,500 claims is an average payout of $7,715 per claim. If we extrapolate those numbers to a more identifiable fleet size of 100 buses, there would be an average of 250 claims per year with a total payout of $1,928,750.

To recoup a $1 million budget for a new video surveillance solution (at a cost of $10,000 per system), a 100 vehicle fleet would recover its initial investment within 2½ years after installation, based on an annual 30 percent reduction of total claim payouts realized by identifying fraudulent claims. (see Fig. 1)

While agencies can often determine savings associated with shortened investigations and the reduction of frivolous lawsuit payouts, there are thousands — perhaps millions — of dollars unaccounted for in lost revenue from fares and turnover of transit employees as a result of on-board transit crime.

In June of 2011, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) began tracking video assisted arrests. Their data shows that at least 926 people were arrested and charged in 843 cases where a crime was committed on or near CTA property. In 2015 alone, CTA cameras aided police in the arrest of at least 256 individuals in connection with at least 253 cases on or near CTA properties.

TCRP’s report, “Video Surveillance Uses by Rail Transit Agencies,” notes that when Intercity Transit of Olympia, Wash., experienced several physical assaults, including a stabbing near a transit stop, the agency realized a passenger’s fear for their own safety could discourage ridership.

Surveillance cameras were installed across their fleet of 100 buses and vans to increase their commitment to the public’s safety and security, and to produce video evidence that would then be used for incident investigations and potentially have an impact on reduced liability claims.

All of the agencies surveyed in “Onboard Camera Applications for Buses” by the TCRP reported customer and bus operator safety as the main motivation for implementing a mobile video surveillance system, followed by customer safety, and accident and insurance claims.

Funding Incentives

As a result of terrorist attacks on transit systems worldwide, entities such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) offer considerable financial support (grants anywhere from 50 to100 percent of costs) for the implementation of surveillance systems in U.S. transit operations.

A 2011 survey indicated that many video surveillance purchases for rail applications came from FTA grants and DHS funding.

Historically, a procurement best practice has been to use as little capital funding as possible by selecting the lowest bid. Today, more agencies are assessing the inverse relationship between capital and operation costs, maximizing the grant money available and selecting technology solutions with the capability to reduce long-term operational and maintenance costs.

For example, selecting a lower bid may result in the implementation of a substandard system, perhaps one with a shorter warranty period and less ongoing support. While some agencies find this type of system to suffice initially, fatigue from vibration, temperature and power fluctuations, continuous repairs and downtime can quickly drain funds from an operations budget.

In addition, a solution without features that allow users to quickly identify and retrieve desired information will add to labor and operation costs. If an organization is forced into a low-bid situation, a scope of work which includes technical requirements can ensure the most efficient system is purchased to effectively meet operational needs.

Anticipating Common Repairs

Many repair issues stem from the deployment of equipment that is not specifically designed for a rugged mobile environment. Many systems are designed for a fixed facility-type application and have not been modified for use in transit bus and rail vehicles. It is imperative to deploy a proven system with specific rigorous certifications to avoid excessive repair, faulty equipment and a drain on resources.

Many times, a camera or system failure is not realized until operations managers attempt to retrieve footage and find the system is not working. This uncertainty could be eliminated with a solution that provides real-time health reporting and management of on-board assets and needed repairs.

The TCRP Synthesis 90 report, “Video Surveillance Uses by Rail Transit Agencies,” found that the two major reasons agencies deploy video surveillance monitoring are to prevent crime and vandalism, and aid in accident investigations11. These two reasons alone solidify the need for a solution that will be “on” in the most critical moments.

It is important that a mobile video solution either pull regular health reports of on-board devices or that an agency have a separate monitoring system in place. An installed video surveillance system not performing correctly gives a false sense of security to passengers and the agency, and in the event of a passenger lawsuit this disrepair could weigh on a jury’s decision.

Understanding Post-Deployment Needs

Like most technologies, video recording equipment and software evolves rapidly. It is also common that an agency’s needs change, requiring more sophisticated tools over time. The initial need is often an easy-to-use, reliable system that records and plays back video and audio. However, shortly after the cameras are installed many agencies see the benefits of adding additional functionality such as live video streaming for watching events unfold in real-time, or an intuitive mapping feature that pinpoints vehicle location on a specific route — down to the exact city block or intersection.

Deploying a system that provides detailed metadata allows administrators to use comprehensive and adaptable search parameters to quickly find relevant video. Add-on features like accelerometers can trigger automatic video downloads and notifications for review whenever a bus experiences a hard stop or fast turn.

Without efficient data management, agency personnel may spend upwards of 30 minutes searching for the desired vehicle and removing the hard drive, saving the footage to a computer and reviewing the video12. This time intensive video retrieval prompts many upgrade and enhancement requests, which ultimately saves operational and personnel costs for the agency.

For an initial mobile video purchase, agencies must choose a solution that supports their current needs while offering adaptable architecture for likely future upgrades. Enhancing a system is much less expensive than replacing the entire system to add new features.

Assess the Importance of Compatibility

When one or several video recording systems reach end-of-life and are replaced with next generation recorders and cameras, compatibility with existing components can become a costly surprise to many agency managers. The initial hope is that a management system will integrate and work seamlessly with newer and older equipment.

Although Open Architecture solutions are often touted as making system integration easy, in real world conditions a mix of cameras, recorders, and software from multiple sources can be difficult to implement, maintain and troubleshoot, particularly when various pieces of an overall solution come from different suppliers. This can be further complicated if the transit agency itself is attempting to coordinate the disparate technologies involved in multiple generations of equipment and software.

It is imperative that the core system operate with the equipment installed from the primary procurement and any future installs. Open application program interfaces (APIs) can allow integration with other systems. As vehicles in a fleet turn-over, having forward and backward compatible hardware and software eliminates the need for additional resources during an upgrade and removes the hassle and unforeseen expense of managing and maintaining back-end solutions.

Purpose-built equipment and software designed with standard APIs, and installed by experienced solution providers who understand the unique requirements of transit agencies, ensures video systems work as expected. On-going support from the provider to the transit agency simplifies maintenance with “plug and play” replacements when needed, and ensures compatibility and product migration strategies for future upgrades.

Because the life expectancy of mobile video surveillance systems varies significantly depending on the manufacturer and the specific system selected, agencies should always ask questions about a product’s lifecycle during the initial phase of the procurement process.

A system with adaptable, compatible architecture is beneficial when agencies need to replace equipment, and avoids the need for a costly fleet-wide replacement.

Keep Up with Technology

Agencies need to keep up with the constantly changing trends, technologies and regulations in the industry. High definition video and wireless capabilities are common and offer faster, more sophisticated ways to stream video to operations, command centers, police vehicles and smartphones.

Mobile applications for live streaming footage and monitoring equipment status have recently emerged to accommodate agency personnel and first responders in the field. Agencies like the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) use smartphones to remotely view live activity on-board trains and buses in order to react quickly to any criminal behavior or operator assaults.

Additionally, many mobile video systems incorporate cloud-based storage and management services to help agencies streamline operational processes.


Keeping up with new trends and capabilities have their own ways of enhancing technology ROI – no matter the industry. Deploying advanced tools and technologies such as mobile apps and cloud storage are proven to provide more flexibility and access to agencies of all sizes.

But, there are several other critical factors agencies should consider when selecting or upgrading current video surveillance software and equipment. A technologically advanced solution is an investment in an agency’s long-term strategy, as financial benefits will be highlighted when disproving fraudulent claims, deterring fare disputes and improving operational efficiencies to reduce overhead and maintenance costs.

Agencies should consider solutions that allow for additional add-ons such as automated system health checks, live-video streaming and real-time location mapping features. This added functionality is especially important when it comes to investigating reported on-board incidents and improving the safety of transit drivers and passengers.

Selecting a solution that plans for compatibility and “future-proofing” helps agencies maximize the initial investment and eliminate the need to bring in additional resources during an upgrade.

Editor’s note:

The original version of this content appeared in METRO Magazine in 2011, and was reprinted in the form of a white paper with permission. Apollo Video Technology has since updated this content to reflect changes in the industry and ROI for transit agencies (August 2017). Click here to download the full white paper.

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