TriMet releases long sought after records on security camera maintenance

TriMet releases long sought after records on security camera maintenance »Play Video
A TriMet security camera.

PORTLAND, Ore. – TriMet has finally released crucial information on its surveillance cameras that KATU’s On Your Side Investigators have been requesting for more than two months. After KATU asked repeatedly, and even took legal action, TriMet has finally released records showing how well its security cameras actually work.

TriMet says 6 percent of its bus camera systems don’t operate properly on any given day. The transit agency says 4 percent of its MAX camera systems are not working daily. Those percentages are based on scheduled inspections of the whole fleet versus the number of malfunctions.

TriMet arrived at its numbers by dividing the number of repairs by the number of inspections. KATU took a different approach.

During KATU’s meeting last week with TriMet, KATU pointed out, and TriMet representatives agreed, that the number of scheduled bus inspections had no bearing on system ‘fitness,’ because that’s not how the malfunctions were being discovered. The problems were cropping up when the buses went out of service – so the only inspections that KATU considered were the automated check-ups done when the buses were turned in at night.

KATU divided the emergency data pack repairs required during the 28 months by the number of buses in use, trying to find a weighted average reflecting total hours in service (the fleet size varies from more than 500 during peak time, to less than half that on off-time and weekends). KATU also considered issues that weren’t classified as malfunctions but could still have an impact on video recording (for example, dirty lenses that can hurt clarity, or camera mounts knocked crooked).

The result: A fail rate of about 8 percent for MAX trains and 7 percent for buses – still pretty good, just not as positive as the numbers TriMet put out.

There's another problem. TriMet says it checks its bus camera systems by computer every day, but it does manual inspections about every two to three months. The American Public Transportation Association, which wrote a comprehensive guide on how to use cameras, says they're supposed to be checked at least once a month.

Roberta Altstadt, a spokeswoman for TriMet, said, "The APTA also says it's up to the specific transit industry to include what they're usage needs, what they're actual usage dictates for the maintenance of the system."

TriMet says KATU’s analysis is wrong and the agency is holding to the numbers it put out.

As for as why it took so long for KATU to get the maintenance records, TriMet says the Transportation Security Administration told them it was “Sensitive Security Information” that couldn’t be released even though similar data has been made public in other cities.

The TSA told KATU TriMet chose to ask for permission to release the records. The federal agency ultimately decided to allow the information to be released after it redacted the location information for individual camera systems. KATU had said repeatedly it didn’t need that location data.

A congressional aide told KATU, meanwhile, that transit agencies in other cities have chosen not to ask for permission to release similar information in the past.

Below are the records TriMet released: