Selling a Transit Security Project
Security is not a revenue generator in public transit, and security projects compete with numerous others within the corporate enterprise for funding. The top 75 transit agencies in the United States spend roughly 4 percent of their operating budget on security personnel and equipment, according to the Federal Transit Administration’s Public Transportation System Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning Guide.
To succeed, security must address this competition by presenting the project in corporate terms, evaluating traditional financial performance measures, such as return on investment and net present value.
Security should also promote a project’s cost-saving, a powerful method to quantify the value of investing in security. One transit system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), in Atlanta used the cost savings of a camera analytics project to gain approval.
MARTA has numerous physical assets, including a network of video cameras that surveil 38 rail stations, 532 in-service buses, five bus garages, three rail yards, and other infrastructure located within the jurisdictions of 30 different law enforcement agencies in and around Atlanta.
The MARTA Police Department (MPD) is the longest-serving transit police agency in the country that is also certified by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement. The MPD is a full-time, full-service agency with more than 300 sworn officers, including detectives, uniform patrol, explosive detection units, and nearly 50 civilian staff members.
The MPD has more than 2,000 cameras covering the MARTA system, but found around-the-clock monitoring impractical due to boredom, distraction, and cognitive fatigue. A 24-hour monitoring program would also require additional facilities and manpower.
The MPD wanted to get the most out of its cameras and, in 2009, it began investigating how analytics could help. The road to implementing this solution required quantifying the value of a new technology amid competing priorities. Security advocates sometimes base their investment requests on the merits of an intangible perception of security, the consequences of not investing, or how the investment supports compliance with industry regulation.
But the MPD felt that these approaches fell short of providing the necessary comparative analysis. The MPD reasoned that its project would more likely find success if decision makers could easily compare projects seeking investment and evaluate quantifiable benefits that demonstrate a positive return on investment using the same scale.
Security benefits are measured as the difference between the costs before and after project implementation. The cost benefits to MARTA needed to be researched to perform the return on investment analysis.
The MPD turned to Dr. Kendra C. Taylor, a MARTA consultant and associate vice president at AECOM, to conduct this research and analysis. She reviewed legislative requirements, industry benchmarks, risk assessments, and historic and anticipated costs to provide contextual material. Taylor’s financial analysis of costs was the most critical component because it would provide comparative numbers.
The first step in quantifying the benefits was to interview stakeholders whose day-to-day operations would be affected by the adaptive technology, including employees who would maintain the system after installation.
The next step was to explore potential scenarios to determine the types of costs involved. The third step was to collect data to estimate values for costs identified, and the fourth step was to perform analysis to determine the benefit value. This benefit value was used in the calculations for the return on investment.
The interviews with staff pointed to potential reduced costs associated with railcar vandalism, fare evasion, panhandling, liability, and rail incidents, making them the focus of the analysis. When presenting its findings to MARTA executives, the MPD provided a narrative, explaining each area of potential savings in lay terms with clearly stated costs and benefits.
Vandalism. Adaptive video technology can send alerts to stop acts of vandalism before they occur by identifying would-be vandals when they enter an area that is off limits.
For example, one evening, two MARTA railcars were covered extensively in graffiti while in the rail yard. The cars were out of service all day while they were being cleaned.
According to Ethel Williams, superintendent of railcar appearance at MARTA, the system suffers 20 acts of vandalism on railcars each year. Williams notes that the restorative costs of these incidents include almost a full day of labor and special cleaning supplies. In addition, fences are frequently damaged when the vandals enter the rail yard. Preventing these incidents would save MARTA more than $50,000 per year.
Fare evasion. In 2014, MARTA announced that fare evaders cost the transit authority an estimated $3.5 million per year.
Some of the tactics used to ride MARTA without paying include: waiting for a passenger to exit, then slipping through to enter before the gate closes; crowding through in the same direction after only one person taps his or her fare card; and simply pushing through a gate with brute force.
Adaptive video technology can detect this unusual movement and alert staff, who may review the footage on a smartphone and apprehend the person who evaded the fare.
The MPD reviewed historical analysis on fare evasion and conservatively estimated that MARTA would reclaim around $200,000 by using the pattern-detection element of adaptive video technology and hiring an officer to stand nearby.
Panhandling. It is illegal to panhandle on MARTA buses and trains and at MARTA stations. When a person stands out as moving from rider to rider along the platform, the adaptive video technology can send an alert for further investigation by MARTA personnel.
To quantify the value of having this technology on panhandling prevention, the project team considered the effect of panhandling on passengers’ perception of safety. It also considered the effect on lost ridership using customer feedback from ridership surveys and a study that tied the perception of safety to ridership.
The MPD estimated that around $50,000 in revenue loss would be prevented by addressing panhandling through the use of adaptive video technology.
Liability. Liability, in the form of slip-and-fall judgments, may result from wet or dangerous conditions at rail stations or other passenger facilities. In addition, when a passenger slips or falls, MARTA wants to address the matter quickly and accurately.
The adaptive technology may detect these conditions in advance of an accident and alert MARTA employees to address the condition before it contributes to an injury.
The MPD worked with Donna Jennings, director of risk management at MARTA, along with the authority’s safety and legal departments to get historical information on incidents where the new technology would have been valuable.
Using historical data on the costs of judgments and conservative estimates on the reduction in the number of judgments, the MPD was able to identify nearly $25,000 in cost savings.
Incidents. The greatest potential for cost savings was with the avoidance of rail incidents through alerts from the adaptive video technology. Several past incidents of passengers stumbling, falling, or purposefully jumping into the train right of way were caught on video.
This video was used forensically, but it has the potential to be used in real time in the future for significant cost savings each year to alert MARTA personnel to stop a train before hitting a fallen patron.
Potential cost savings include avoidance of legal costs, settlement costs, costs to restore the train and station, lost revenue from buses removed from other service to transport impacted travelers, and lost ridership during and after the restoration period. The up to $2 million annually in identified costs that could be avoided, while significant financially, are negligible compared to the value of a life saved.
Part of the cost of doing business is protecting assets. The project team was able to make the case that the quantifiable benefits of investing in adaptive video technology to prevent intentional and accidental damage were justified. The return on investment proved to exceed investment costs by a factor of two or three, with a payback period of less than two years.
This type of analysis helped decision makers compare this investment with other opportunities in the portfolio. The conclusion was favorable for security, and the system integration began in 2012 and is ongoing.
Aston Greene is the commander of MARTA’s Emergency Preparedness Unit.