Officials discuss impact of SMCISD school bus camera ticketing system

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Special to the Star

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Robert Bratton, school bus driver, waits to pick up students at Travis Elementary School March 24 in a bus equipped with a camera.

San Marcos officials say they are beginning to see positive results from a new automated ticketing system put in place for drivers who pass stopped school buses.

City councilmembers passed an ordinance Jan. 7 that allows external cameras to be installed on all San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District buses, according to a Jan. 14 University Star article. The cameras record drivers who pass stopped buses, and $300 tickets are issued by mail to violators after the system manufacturer and San Marcos police review the videos. As of March 25, 52 citations had been mailed, said Carter Hutson, SMCISD Associate Director of Transportation.

Many of the tickets were issued in problem areas where the district has noticed high numbers of violations, Hutson said.

“Our biggest problem tends to be stops on multiple-lane crossroads,” Hutson said. “If there is no permanent median placed in between the road with traffic going the opposite way then the vehicles have to stay stopped, and we have had a problem with them not stopping.”

Students who go to school within the district live on both sides of Interstate Highway 35 and around the Texas State campus, which forces the children to exit the buses at inconvenient places, Hutson said.

“Some students have to get off on access roads on the side of (IH-) 35,” Hutson said. “That, along with all the vehicles driving to and from Texas State, has forced students to have to get off the bus in dangerous places.”

The program, which was initiated Feb. 17, seems to be working well and has received positive reviews from parents, said Chase Stapp, assistant police chief for the San Marcos Police Department.

"In the end I hope it raises awareness so people understand to stop for the children's safety," Stapp said.

There has been a noticeable difference in the way drivers are reacting to stopped buses, Hutson said.

“The school bus drivers have noticed an increase in vehicles stopping when they are supposed to.” Hutson said. “For our bus drivers their primary concern is the safety on the children getting on and off the bus as well as a car hitting a bus and injuring students on it so they are very happy about this.”

San Marcos is the first city in Central Texas to implement a program ofRAFFIC this kind, Hutson said. Busguard, the company that installed the cameras on the buses, performed the $8,000 service for free and receives 75 percent of the money from fines. The other 25 percent goes to the city and the district, Hutson said.

Natalie Arida, fashion merchandising freshman, said she is concerned about the program even though it is for the safety of school children.

"I think it is a good law of course, but I feel like it should come with a warning before receiving a ticket," Arida said.