When subway security and MTA technology collide


So cameras in the subway. I think it’s a good idea; at the very least, it’s a major deterrent. While I understand the concerns of civil liberties groups, the truth is that no one will ever watch thousands of hours of tape each day, and we’re already all videotaped just about everywhere in New York City. If cameras make the subways safer, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

But this is a new technology and the MTA is involved. If you’ve read yesterday’s post, you can guess where this one is heading. According to a recent New York State Comptroller’s report (available here as a PDF), the project to install cameras in subway stations and cars is millions of dollars overbudget and nearly 18 months behind schedule. Bet you never saw that one coming.

Noah Shachtman, writing on Wired’s Danger Room blog, has the details:

A new report by the New York State Comptroller’s office reveals that “the cost of the electronic security program has grown from $265 million to $450 million, an increase of $185 million or 70 percent.” An August 2008 deadline has been pushed back to December 2009, and further delays may be just ahead…

At the heart of the program was a network of surveillance cameras, passing what they saw through a set of intelligent video algorithms, designed to spot suspicious behavior: a bag left on the subway platform, a person jumping down to the tracks, a mob running up a down escalator.

But after several years of planning and tests, at least “one particular element” of the intelligent video system — unspecified by the Comptroller’s office — “could not be advanced at this time due to difficulties tailoring the software to conditions in the MTA environment. The MTA provided extensive briefings to the media on the electronic security program in August 2005, shortly after the London bombings, creating expectations for this program that now may not be fulfilled.”

Maybe the MTA should use some of that $150 million from the Department of Homeland Security for the surveillance project instead of an automatic rifle program.

Anyway, once again, the MTA is having problems adjusting its aged system to 21st Century technology, and again, I’m left wondering if it is an institutionalized problem. This time, the contractor is Lockheed Martin, but the results are the same. The MTA simply has to prioritize programs that will modernize the system and secure it at the same time. If the London Underground, the World’s oldest underground passenger transit system, can arrive in the 21st Century, so can the MTA with the right motivation and prioritization.

Categories : MTA Technology

9 Responses to “When subway security and MTA technology collide”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    I think it’s a good idea; at the very least, it’s a major deterrent.

    Indeed, London, where camera coverage is in the same ballpark as in 1984, has never had a terrorist attack since the IRA folded its operations.

  2. Ok. Fair point, Alon. But Scotland Yard was able to respond very quickly and nab suspects in the wake of the London bombings. Suicide bombings will be impossible to prevent in an open subway system anyway.

  3. “Indeed, London, where camera coverage is in the same ballpark as in 1984, has never had a terrorist attack since the IRA folded its operations.”

    What about the 7/7 attacks?


  4. Alon Levy says:

    I was being sarcastic.

    And sure, the Scotland Yard could learn about the bombers quickly using the cameras. But that’s just scorekeeping; it doesn’t prevent future attacks, as the city discovered two weeks later.

  5. twakum says:

    these cameras will be for sale on eBay within 48 hours of their install in NYC…


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