San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by KIM HILSENBECK

Drivers who illegally pass San Marcos school buses may find something soon thereafter in their mailbox: A $300 citation.

Starting Feb. 3, violators are subject to a civil penalty for passing a stopped school bus while it is picking up or dropping off students. A new ordinance approved by San Marcos City Council on Jan. 7 authorizes the San Marcos Police Department to mail a ticket to the registered owner of a vehicle caught on cameras passing a bus when its red flashing lights are activated.

A fall pilot program that equipped 15 buses with external cameras documented 2,360 drivers who illegally passed school buses in the course of a single academic semester. All 82 buses in the district’s fleet will now be fitted with the technology.

The school district contracted with a private firm, Dallas-based Busguard LLC, to install and monitor cameras for the pilot study. With the new law in place, Busguard will receive 75 percent of each $300 fine issued. The city and the school district will split the remaining 25 percent. Officials say the school district’s and city’s share of revenue from the program will be used to fund safety programs, said Carter Hutson, the school district’s transportation director.

The cameras and supporting technology will be installed at no cost to the district and instead be funded through Busguard’s cut of future fines. Hutson said Busguard reviews the video from an off-site location in the Dallas area. If violations are confirmed, the company notifies the police department, when then levies the civil penalty.

State law requires that all drivers must stop when a school bus is stopped and operating a visual signal, such as flashing red lights or extended stop sign. Drivers in all lanes should not proceed until the school bus resumes motion, the driver signals to proceed, or the stop siglans are no longer activated.

The only exception, Hutson said, is that oncoming drivers do not need to stop if the roadway is separated by a physical barrier such as a grass median. On roadways like Aquarena Springs, divided only by a left-turn lane, drivers in all lanes in both directions must stop.

Hutson attributed the problem to several factors including “the majority of people are ignorant of the law.” He added that many want to blame the college students.

“Certainly they are a part of it, no doubt. But they’re not the only ones,” he said.

Last year, the six San Marcos CISD school buses were involved in accidents, Huston said. So far in 2014, there have been another six, some of them serious.

In January, a special education bus was stopped on the railroad tracks on Texas 21 with its red lights and stop signal out. Bus operators must stop, open the door and look both ways before proceeding over tracks.

“A large gravel truck came barreling down Hwy. 21,” Hutson said. “[The driver] managed to veer the cab away from hitting bus but the trailer hit the back of the bus.”

A wheelchair bound student normally on that bus was absent that day. Had he been in his regular seat in the bus, “it’s likely he would have been seriously injured or killed,” Hutson said.

KIM HILSENBECK is editor of the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Hays Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.

COVER: The wreckage of a San Marcos CISD school bus is evidence of the need for a new city of San Marcos ordinance that allows the police department to levy civil penalties against drivers who pass a bus while it is loading or unloading students. PHOTO by RANDY HOLT VIA THE HAYS FREE PRESS

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21 thoughts on “Drivers who pass San Marcos school buses may find bill in the mailbox

  1. Just during the semester cited, the camera installer would have made over half a million dollars.

    Was this really thought out?

  2. “A fall pilot program that equipped 15 buses with external cameras documented 2,360 drivers who illegally passed school buses in the course of a single academic semester”

    That is not a believable number.

  3. Setting aside the fact that I am against the very principle of “law enforcement by camera”, it is still a terrible, terrible idea to base this private contractor’s pay on the amount of offenses they are able to generate for the city to levy fines upon.

    Their numbers are already pretty striking. 2,360 drivers x $300 fine x 75% cut to the contractor is $531,000 per semester that they will potentially earn from this program…..and that’s with only a fraction of the school’s buses outfitted with the cameras.

    Because their compensation relies on their ability to generate offenses, my guess it that it will only be a matter of time until the cameras start running even when the buses aren’t stationary.

  4. The split on that revenue is absurd. The school district gets 12 1/2% and even that little amount doesn’t go to education, but instead to “safety”, meanwhile the Dallas company makes $225 per ticket. If you extrapolate from their own numbers [(2360/15) for 157.3 per bus times 82 buses times two semesters per year times $225 per ticket], the private Dallas company stands to make $5.8 million per year for installing 82 cheap cameras. That $5.8 million per year is taken out of the local economy and sent to Dallas which will reduce local folks discretionary income and impact local businesses.

    Plus, they admit that many are ignorant of the law and don’t know they can’t pass in the far lane of Aquarena or Hunter, yet we are going to hit them for $300!? $300 is a lot of money for most folks in San Marcos.

  5. Dano, redo your numbers. The pilot program was 15 buses. The actual implementation is going to be 82 buses. You’re off by a factor of 5.5X.

  6. p.s. If safety (not revenue) is the primary concern here, don’t pick people up on Aquarena Springs. There’s no law that says we need to have bus stops on Aquarena Springs, is there?

  7. I should have clarified, I wasn’t going for the extrapolation of that data over the full fleet….but yes, extrapolating the data over the full fleet makes the numbers appear absolutely ridiculous.

    That is, assuming that you believe the violation count. I’m not sure I do. Plus, once someone gets one of those stupid tickets, I’m pretty sure they won’t do it again so the number of violations should drop rapidly once word gets out.

    Considering we have heard little to nothing about this new ordinance, I’m guessing there will be a TON of angry calls to the City once they start ticketing for it. And I’m also guessing it won’t be long until someone sues the City over this program.

  8. I’m going to guess that it will take several weeks to process and deliver the citations. Given that most people travel the same routes, at the same time, each day, I would expect many people to get ten or more citations before they know anything is going on.

    Yeah, I imagine that would be a deterrent.

  9. Well I’m glad a Kyle/Buda editor was thoughtful enough to inform us here in San Marcos of what’s going on.
    Where the hell is the San Marco media with this story. How did this get through city hall without the Daily Record or Mercury mentioning it. Goof grief.

  10. I’m glad a newspaper editor from North Hays County decided to inform us down here in San Marcos of what the heck is going on in our school/city. I don’t remember this council ordinance passing being mentioned in either Daily Record or here on Mercy – way to drop the ball guys.
    As to this Dallas company, I think our city is being used as a pawn in a greedy company’s portfolio. At least leave us here a larger chunk of this horrible situation. I get it, cars shouldn’t illegaly pass buses, but lets do more education before we start taking away money from their dinner tables.

  11. They say 2360 drivers but I suspect that is 2360 incidents with a lot of repeat offenders. Assuming the pilot program ran for the full fall semester – roughly 90 days – that is 1-2 incidents per bus per day. That number will fall off pretty quickly after $300 tickets start being issued. But Texas State recruits a new crop of uninformed drivers every year so I guess it is a pretty solid revenue model for Busguard. And a pretty poor one for the city and the school district. You could hire several traffic enforcement officers and buy vehicles for them for that $5.8M and you’d get them for the full day instead of an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

  12. It’s hard to estimate the revenue generated by these cameras. The ordinance only applies to violations inside city limits, while the district boundaries extend further out. Buses that service martindale, staples, redwood, rancho vista, birmensdorf, grandview and south ridge (to name a few) won’t generate many tickets. Also the district doesn’t identify the number of violations in the pilot program that happened in/out of city limits. There’s definitely money to be made, just not as much as some of you estimate.

    This whole agreement seems like smcisd is in cahoots with bus guard who btw is printing money from their agreement with Dallas county schools and has several other districts they are eyeballing.

    The system goes live Monday 2/17.

  13. While you would hope these tickets will be issued for actual violations do not count on it. The bus camera program is just as flawed as the red light videos have proven themselves to be. The problem here is that a for profit company has come up with an idea to address an issue that only really results in it and government making money. Video evidence is good but remember it requires an individual to interpret the video. There are cities with adequate safeguards, (very few) and some that go for low lying fruit by mailing tickets to people who will not go online and look at the video and merely pay the ticket. Children’s safety is important but the tight jot yo be subject to government/police overreach is as we’ll. I’m sorry but at this point this program looks to be about money not safety.

  14. Ok, I do not hate my iPad but it doesn’t always say what I write. What I said was the right to not be subject to police/government overreach…… Thanks and have a good weekend

  15. So if a handful of people on this thread have been able to poke such huge, glaring holes in this program – while ostensibly either on our coffee breaks at work or while sitting on the couch browsing the web, no less – then WHY THE HELL DID OUR CITY COUNCIL APPROVE IT? Did none of these elementary thoughts even occur to them????

    That makes me very, very afraid……

  16. I agree with you Dano and I don’t ever agree with you. This is all about easy money and somebody that came up with an idea to fleece citizens while enticing cities and school districts to lend their credibility to get the deal done. I’m gonna do some checking to see who this company is.

  17. Wow. None of y’all have kids that ride these buses?! I may be mistaken, but I didn’t read one comment about the possible life saving potential of this program – only the absurdity of the cost of failing to follow the laws. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. We had a close call already, do we need to justify this ordinance with the pain inflicted to a child or family?

    I’ve been a first responder to 2 bus vs car, and 1 accident involving 3 kids and a driver passing a flashing bus stop sign. Seriously affected me, and I have no kids.

    If you follow the law, who cares what the fine is? Maybe the safety of our kids will increase AND the Dallas company will lose money at the same time!

  18. No one said that people should ignore traffic laws when it comes to stopping for school buses. No one said our children didn’t deserve safety.

    What people *ARE*, however, complaining about is the particular method that the City seems to have decided to use to achieve this goal.

    There has to be a way to encourage compliance with school bus traffic laws that DOESN’T involve unannounced penalties on our citizenry with cameras that are installed, maintained, AND MONITORED by a company 200 miles away who has a clear (profit) motive to inflate the offense numbers by any means necessary. A campaign of public education followed by LIVE police enforcement along bus routes would have been just one better way to go.

    This seems to have passed Council based simply on the premise that “hey, it doesn’t cost the City or the District anything!” But by doing so, they have (forgive the pun) thrown the rest of us under the bus.

    I sent our Mayor a FaceBook message on Friday asking him to help spread the word about this new program on social media, since they’ve done so little to otherwise warn people about it. Guess what? He promised to “put it out there” but then…..nothing. I guess he was too busy chasing Blue October around…..

  19. Still, you’re worried about the profitability of company that manages the program? This is a great way of increasing policing, without costing anyone any tax increases. If we authorized increasing policing with actual bodies, then we’ll have to hire more bodies, and increases taxes.

    Looks like the council did the job they were elected to do:
    8. Consider approval of Ordinance 2013-75, on the second of two readings, amending Chapter 82 of
    the City Code of San Marcos, Texas, by amending Section 82.010 to establish a civil penalty for
    the offense of passing a stopped school bus; and providing for a civil fine of $300 per violation.

    Maybe someone who didn’t like this should have read the agenda before it came to vote.

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