TriMet's response to KATU investigation raises further security-camera concerns

TriMet's response to KATU investigation raises further security-camera concerns »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – TriMet issued a response on Wednesday to the On Your Side Investigators’ report on Tuesday that detailed a longtime mechanic’s complaints.

The mechanic, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed key safety and security concerns aren’t being addressed.

TriMet responded to five of the mechanic’s points. Some of the responses were valid, while others raised further questions.

The mechanic said he chose to talk about the problems because he had been following KATU’s legal battle with TriMet. The On Your Side Investigators filed a public-records request for the maintenance records for TriMet’s security cameras in March, which TriMet has so far fought to keep under wraps.

The mechanic said he believes the maintenance on those cameras has, in fact, fallen behind.

TriMet disputed that, claiming that its computerized monitors record any problems with the CCTV system, which are usually dealt with within 24 hours, and that preventive maintenance is performed every 12,000 miles or about every two to three months.

But the statement also indicated that the alerts aren’t reported in real time.

“Service workers check the health monitor on a nightly basis,” the statement reads.

That means a bus with bad cameras could be driving around for hours before service techs know there’s a problem.

Additionally, TriMet’s three-months-or-12,000-miles maintenance schedule is less frequent than what’s recommended by industry best practices.

Those best practices were drafted in part by TriMet systems engineer John V. Swiecick in 2011.

“Cameras that can be reached by members of the public will need regular inspection to ensure that they are still operational and have not been interfered with or their housings vandalized,” read the American Public Transportation Association guidelines, which Swiecick helped draft. “At a minimum, inspections should be undertaken every month.”

Why are frequent on-site inspections so important?

TriMet’s own report - which the On Your Side Investigators  found during a two-month review of TriMet security - describes a badly aging stock of equipment.

The cameras are “are aged, and have outlived their useful life,” the report reads.

The agency is in the process of replacing more than 2,000 mostly bust-mounted analog cameras with new digital gear.

The process will take about six years, and – as TriMet notes in the report --  CCTV suppliers are “no longer supporting analog technology legacy equipment” – which would mean no service calls, and no manufacturer-made replacement parts.

TriMet also said that, under federal law, it can’t release the maintenance records. It claimed the Transportation Security Administration refuses to allow the records to be released because they are security sensitive.

TSA, however, said TriMet’s records are not the TSA’s to disclose.

"TriMet’s maintenance and inspection records belong to TriMet, not TSA, and thus are not TSA’s records to disclose," TSA said in an email. " Upon request from TriMet to determine whether the records in question contain Sensitive Security Information (SSI) ... TSA determined that they do. TSA is currently awaiting further information from TriMet in order to identify the specific information within the spreadsheet that requires redaction before disclosure..."

Members of Congress are pressing both TriMet and TSA to release the records to KATU.

Public transportation entities in several other major cities, including Seattle, New York and Washington D.C., have fulfilled similar requests from the media.

Also in the statement, TriMet claimed the mechanic’s assertion that "safety has dropped off in the background as far as safety meetings, shift meetings, certification for forklift drivers" isn’t true.

Safety meetings are held monthly, TriMet said in its statement Wednesday.

“Safety meetings are held and TriMet has a formal process for any safety concern to be raised by any employee,” the statement reads.

TriMet didn’t dispute the claim about forklift drivers, saying the concern is being actively addressed.

TriMet also took issue with the mechanic’s claim that "the floors on some of the buses are rotten. We have issues that have to do with wheelchair restraints. We have issues to do with mirrors that the drivers use to drive with."

“The floors are inspected on a daily basis by multiple personnel. If any issue is identified during these inspections, it is noted and the bus is sent in for further inspection and necessary repairs are made,” TriMet’s statement reads. “There has never been a safety incident that resulted in a rider or operator being injured from a ‘rotten’ floor.”

Finally, TriMet pointed out that it did not get the chance to respond to Tuesday story. This is true; KATU mistyped a TriMet spokesperson’s email address in a request for comment.