CCTV and Public Transit

In many cities and municipalities around the world CCTV cameras are being added to trains, buses and other facets of public transportation. With the goal of improving public safety and decreasing the incidence of crime and anti-social behavior, cities are investing in new and improved surveillance infrastructure. In many locales, the camera feeds from each train and bus are linked to a comprehensive CCTV system that monitors all activity on public transit twenty-four hours per day. The following paragraphs will outline more about CCTV implementation on trains and buses.

In the wake of 9/11, CCTV cameras have become much more commonplace in metropolitan areas around the world. On trains, subways and light rail, it is common to find cameras capturing footage in every coach, usually with one camera on each end of the coach. The passage between coaches is also monitored, as well as the entry and exit points. Buses are monitored in a similar fashion, attempting to leave no gaps in the camera coverage. Footage from these cameras are usually linked to a live command center that monitors each feed from each camera, watching for unusual or suspicious activity.

Proponents of CCTV systems on trains and buses highlight the increase in public safety and public awareness. Pointing to previous studies of CCTV cameras deterring petty theft and crime, they support the extension of these networks in the public realm.
Opponents of this trend question how extensive public surveillance systems may become before they are an invasion of privacy. Further, they often question the validity of numerous claims and assumptions that cameras truly make the public realm a safer place, and cite that cameras are more often used to solve crimes than to prevent them.

Citizens on opposite sides of the issue are far from agreement, but it seems nearly certain that CCTV cameras and systems will continue to proliferate in public environments.

Aside from this debate, it is interesting to consider ways in which extensive surveillance on public transit may create opportunities to understand the metropolis in new ways. This voyeuristic perspective could reveal subtleties of behavior, routine, demographics and use of public transit. In addition, cameras with views of the exterior of the transit modality and passing cityscape would reveal new ways to experience the city and insights into the fabric of the city. In a culture captivated by the media image and synthetic realities, opportunities continue to abound in the realm of surveillance and the city.

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