RTC given okay for audio recording on buses

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RENO, Nev. (AP) - A federal judge has given northern Nevada's largest public transit system the green light to begin recording audio along with the video surveillance on city buses in Reno despite objections from the bus drivers' union that says it's an illegal invasion of privacy.

A lawyer for the Teamsters tells The Associated Press they intend to appeal.

Judge Miranda Du said in a ruling this week neither the Washoe County bus drivers nor their passengers have a right to privacy because conversations on public buses are not private.

The union has been fighting the move for three years. Its lawyer, Michael Langton, says the recordings amount to surreptitious eavesdropping. He says it also violates collective bargaining laws.

Judge Du said there's nothing clandestine about it because posted signs warn riders buses may be equipped with audio and video surveillance.

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Statement from RTC: "The judgement issued by United States District Court Judge Miranda Du on September 18, 2017, to allow audio recording on RTC Washoe fixed-route buses (RTC RIDE) will help improve the overall quality of transit service provided to our passengers and the community. Excellent customer service, which will lead to improving the overall quality of service, is the highest priority for RTC and our contractor, MV Transportation. RTC RIDE buses have had on-board video systems since 2002. Over the past 15 years the video system has been extremely valuable in eliminating or reducing auto liability and personal injury claims by documenting what actually occurred on or around a bus. The system has also assisted law enforcement in investigating missing persons, locating criminal suspects or documenting accidents and incidents that were captured by the external video cameras.

"Beginning in 2009 these video systems came equipped with audio recording capabilities but RTC did not activate them. In 2013, RTC’s fixed-route transit contractor, MV Transportation, requested permission to activate the audio features. MV felt strongly that such capabilities would allow a more thorough and complete investigation into both coach operator and passenger concerns regarding inappropriate behavior on our buses. Indeed, experience from other transit systems around the country demonstrated that audio recordings often exonerated coach operators in disputes that otherwise could not be resolved. No video or audio recordings going forward are reviewed unless a complaint has been filed. RTC approved activation of the audio in 2014. Prior to activating the audio, Teamsters Local 533, which represents RTC RIDE employees, alleged that the audio activation violated Nevada’s wiretap statutes. RTC then filed a complaint in the Washoe County Second Judicial District Court seeking declaratory relief. In 2015, the case was removed to Federal Court and earlier this week United States District Court Judge Miranda Du ruled in favor of the RTC.

"The collective bargaining agreement between MV Transportation and Teamsters Local 533 requires a 30 day notice before any new policies are implemented. Notice will be provided by the close of business today (9/22/17)."