Cameras on some Santa Fe ISD school buses causing controversy over tickets being issued to drivers

Questions about tickets being issued to drivers

SANTA FE – The idea is to keep kids safe.

To that end, according to Santa Fe ISD, a handful of their school busses have been outfitted with automated camera systems that are designed to record vehicles that do not obey the extended stop signs on the busses.

The systems are also evidence used to levy $300 plus fines issued to the owners of the vehicles, which aren’t necessarily the drivers of the vehicles.

Some residents have complained that the system is not fair and is quick to generate tickets when the situation is questionable or downright unwarranted.

There is an appeals process in place.

The entire system is reminiscent of the now, largely outlawed by state law, red light camera systems that some Texas cities had partnered with.

Santa Fe also partners with a for-profit company to administer the program.

School District Response

Santa Fe ISD Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Public Relations, Patti Hansard, sent the following statement:

The District’s main goal is to educate our community on the importance of student safety when our students are traveling by bus to and from school. The district is always open to community feedback and encourages our parents to visit with us when they have a concern to ensure the best outcome for all. The District does not utilize this safety feature to seek revenue. Our goal is that we do not receive revenue but ensure the safety of our children entering and exiting our buses. Many of our students are picked up as early as 5:30 a.m. when it is still dark outside. Santa Fe ISD is committed to building strong community partnerships and fostering a healthy, safe, and supportive learning environment for all members of the learning community.

We encourage individuals who are issued a citation to go through an appeals process that allows for contesting the citation. A date is set for a hearing, and the individual appears in person before an independent hearing officer who reviews the violator’s testimony and video and then determines whether the individual committed the alleged violation.

In your email request for information, you state, “A couple folks are complaining about their (expensive!) tickets… saying it’s unfair and illegal per Texas statute.” In response to that statement, a Department of Public Safety news release on August 8, 2018, explains the requirements for stopping for a loading or unloading a bus:

“State law requires that drivers stop when a bus is stopped and operating a visual signal – either red flashing lights or a stop sign. Drivers should not proceed until the school bus resumes motion; the driver is signaled by the bus driver to proceed; or the visual signal is no longer activated. Approaching drivers do not have to stop for a school bus that is operating a visual signal if the roadway is separated by a physical barrier or an intervening space. (If a highway is divided only by a left-turning lane, the roadways are not considered separated, and drivers must stop for school buses.)”

The City of Santa Fe passed an ordinance in February of 2019, allowing for camera enforcement of school bus stop arm violations. In the interest of student safety, Santa Fe ISD entered into an agreement with Verra Mobility to provide the cameras and image processing. The cameras were installed in August of 2019 and began capturing violations on September 16, 2019. A one-month warning period started September 16, 2019, with warning notices being mailed to violators shortly thereafter. Beginning October 15, 2019, citations were issued for violations in the amount of $300.

Capturing violations is triggered by a motion sensor camera. These images are then sent and reviewed by Verra Mobility who forward the video to our SFISD Police Department. The district police officer reviews the video and determines whether a citation should be issued based on their professional judgement. Not all suspected violations forwarded to our police department are submitted for issuance of a citation. The violations are issued to the registered owner of the car, much like a parking ticket. While city fines are issued in the amount of $300, state fines can average $750 to $1,250. Another goal of this program is to reduce trends in violations. For example, in 2019-2020, the district issued 169 citations per month. In 2020-2021, 121 citations per month and in 2021-2022, 74 citations per month.