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Pittsburgh Public Schools says AI stop arm cameras detect thousands of drivers passing school buses

A child steps onto a school bus.
Chloe Nouvelle
A child steps onto a school bus.

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials say the district’s new school bus camera program captures hundreds of people running stop arms each day.

All PPS school buses are equipped with stop arm enforcement cameras designed to detect vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses. The district began issuing monetary penalties to drivers who run the stop arms this July.

Michael McNamara, the district’s chief operations officer, told school board members Wednesday that there are thousands of instances of blatant violations.

“There are, like I said, some one offs where people are getting tickets when they shouldn't be, and the magistrates are taking care of that at that level,” McNamara said. “But the real story is how many people are actually running these stop arms every single day.”

The discussion came a day after Channel 11 WPXI reported dozens of its viewers say they have been wrongfully issued $300 tickets.

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The district entered into a five-year contract with Bus Patrol in July 2022 after a three-month pilot program. The company that uses artificial intelligence to identify stoparm violations.

PPS officials say the district captured more than 19,000 violations between April 2022 and May 2023, though no fines were issued during that time.

According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, school buses in the U.S. are unlawfully passed more than 17 million times each year.

Bus Patrol splits ticket revenue with school districts, so PPS gets a cut of each penalty issued. Founder and CEO Jean Souliere estimated last year that the district could bring in $1-2 million, based on evidence collected during the pilot.

PPS chief financial officer Ron Joseph, however, told board members Wednesday that said the district has yet to forecast annual revenues since the program has been in effect for less than a year.

Board member Sala Udin said the district must consider how to make drivers take the stoparm cameras seriously, since as of yet, drivers don’t seem to be dissuaded.

“We need to think about, at what time do we need to put a response out in the community to help move along the culture of getting people to stop,” Udin said.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.