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Drivers could be fined if they don't stop for buses, under Pittsburgh school board proposal

Robert F. Bukaty

Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators want to partner with a tech company for the next five years to identify and fine drivers who pass a school bus with an extended stop sign.

The company, Bus Patrol, has worked with other districts, including Prince George’s County, Maryland. Cameras that are attached to school buses use artificial intelligence to identify violations. The company then hands over the evidence and license plate numbers to local police, who review the material and decide whether it was a violation. If it is, Bus Patrol will issue a citation and a $300 fine.

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“When they are approved by the police department, then Bus Patrol will send out the citations with a picture of you running the stop arm and a link to a video of you running the stop arm as well,” said Mike McNamara, chief operations officer for PPS.

The program will not cost the district, which might even make money. Bus Patrol splits ticket revenue with school districts. Founder and CEO Jean Souliere estimates the district could bring in $1-2 million based on evidence collected during a pilot program.

From May 1 to June 18, the company piloted its technology on 19 PPS school buses. It estimates there were 553 violations during that time. Souliere said that the violations captured in the report are more than double the average of other districts.

“It’s pretty consistent everywhere,” he said of violations across the Pittsburgh routes. “You don’t see any attempts to stop whatsoever. It’s a blatant disregard for school buses themselves. That’s the behavior we’re trying to change.”

Souliere showed the school board a video of potential violations during a committee meeting Monday.

Board member Pam Harbin asked how the administration would proactively use the collected data. McNamara said the data would be used in education campaigns on social media to target areas with the most violators.

“Often in city programs, offenders are coming from places in the suburbs as they’re driving into work. So we’re able to look at all of that data and use it to inform our education campaigns through social media to target those zip codes in most need of education,” Souliere said.

Board member Tracey Reed asked if the district first reached out or if Souliere did. Neither McNamara nor Souliere said they could remember how the partnership started. The board approved the pilot program in March.

McNamara said city school bus drivers often complain of drivers not stopping when buses are picking up or dropping off students.

If approved, he said the district would implement a warning period at the beginning of the school year when violators will not be ticketed. A time period for that has not been set. The board will vote on the contract at its meeting on July 27.