The minute you step onto a public bus in Volusia County, everything you do and say is being monitored.
Since 2006, the Volusia County Transportation Authority, or Votran, has been using surveillance systems on their buses to document incidents and accidents.
An inspection of a year’s worth of “flagged” video incidents turned up video of passengers fighting, buses involved in accidents and drivers who were not necessarily exhibiting the most professional image for the agency.
“It holds people accountable because they know they are being filmed, and it's hard to argue with the facts,” said Steven Sherrer, the general manager for Votran.
In April, a customer complained about a driver acting like a “crazy, screaming, maniac” during an altercation that lasted an entire morning.
The video of the incident shows the driver honking his horn and putting his head out of the window to say something to the driver. At one point the woman is seen getting out of her car and saying something back.
The altercation continued later that morning when she pulled alongside him to tell him she’d be filing a complaint.
In that complaint, she wrote that he boasted to her that everything was being recorded. The audio of their altercation was not captured by the particular surveillance system, but the video showed him pull up to her at a stop light, open his door and point his finger and shake his fist out of the window as he’s saying something to her.
After Votran reviewed this video, they terminated the driver.
Another driver resigned in response to a December complaint that she was talking on her cell phone while driving. Votran found numerous incidents where the woman was using her Bluetooth to take personal calls, and she could be seen not wearing her seatbelt.
“Any use of a cellphone is prohibited by our drivers, whether they are using a Bluetooth device or not,” said Sherrer.
But sometimes the tapes offer evidence to refute the claims of passengers. In June, a passenger complained that his driver stopped during his route to get “sexual favors” from a woman companion.
The video shows the driver stopping for a scheduled layover, getting off the bus and into an SUV parked nearby.
After a few minutes, an anxious passenger leaves the bus and steps outside to see what is going on. The passenger then comes back onto the bus to report what he thinks is sexual activity going on being the driver and the woman in the car.
Votran viewed the tape and initially terminated the driver, but after a union grievance was filed, the agency took a better look at the tape. Two supervisors set up a re-enactment and parked an SUV the same distance from the bus and used the bus video system to record it all.
“While reviewing the reenactment, it was determined that the level of description that was described was impossible to describe from the viewpoint where that passenger stood,” said Sherrer, who noted that the passenger would have been standing 44 feet away.
The driver in question told Votran the woman had brought him something to eat and admitted to kissing her, but nothing more.
Votran ultimately decided to suspend him for a month without pay and then let him return to his job.
“It helps to prevent that he-said, she-said situation and it helps to determine preventability if there's an accident,” said Sherrer.