Driver Noel: It'll help. Kian Ahmadi / New Haven Independent

Surveillance video will capture not just what rowdy bus riders do, but what they say, starting next month.

CTTransit General Manager Thomas E. Stringer Jr. made the announcement in a memo to employees: Starting July 1, the existing on-board video systems on all buses serving the New Haven, Hartford and Stamford areas will ​“concurrently utilize audio capabilities.”

“The addition of audio recording will enable us the ability to capture essential information that may assist us in the event of an incident or accident investigation as well as increase overall front-line employee and customer safety,” Stringer wrote.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 281, which represents local drivers, has filed a grievance aimed at preventing the move, arguing that it is an unauthorized change in working conditions. Local President Ralph Buccitti cited several concerns in a conversation with the Independent: Riders growing angry over the audio addition and acting out; violations of employees’ privacy; and violations of riders’ privacy.

“We are also concerned about who will have access to the audio recordings,” he said. ​“Many families ride the bus; they may be taking a child to the doctor and discussing a medical condition.”

CTTransit Assistant General Manager of Planning and Marketing Joshua Rickman responded that the audio plan violates no laws and has not sparked complaints where already implemented on buses in Bridgeport, Norwalk, and the MTA and NJTransit systems.

The audio will ​“assist in taking effective legal action as appropriate” when trouble occurs on board, Rickman wrote in an email message. He predicted that posted signs informing riders of the audio surveillance will serve as a deterrent as well.

Reactions ranged from neutral to positive when the Independent discussed the upcoming audio addition with riders at downtown bus stops and with a bus driver named Fritz Noel.

Noel has been driving New Haven city buses for two years. During this time, he’s grown accustomed to seeing passengers with ​“anger issues” and ​“mental illnesses,” he said. Adding audio to bus cameras will be ​“safer for drivers and passengers” and ​“speed up investigating” crimes on the bus, he predicted. ​“Riding with different people every day, you have to have many kinds of safety.”

Isabel Morales has been riding the city bus every day for nine years. Her work commute takes her from East Haven to Wallingford, where she works as a housekeeper at Choate Rosemary Hall.

She hadn’t heard about the addition of audio but said that she has no problem with it. When asked about her experience on the bus, she smiled and says she likes riding the bus and already feels safe doing so. Some ​“crazy people” often ride, but they don’t bother her. Morales pointed to her AirPod in her ear and said she tunes the noise out. 

Waterbury resident Larissa Burrell rides the city bus twice a week to her job in New Haven. She confessed that she much prefers getting to work by car and takes the bus only when she must because ​“there’s so much going on that shouldn’t happen” on board: She often witnesses rowdy verbal arguments between riders and is concerned by ​“dangerous people carrying weapons.” She even started carrying mace with her. So she said that the addition of audio makes her more comfortable because it means authorities are addressing the problems on the bus. 

As he waited for a bus ride home, Cooperative Arts & Humanities senior Jerome Hernandez said he sees no downsides or upsides to the addition of audio. ​“There’s already fighting nobody stops, yelling, and drugs,” he said. ​“Bad stuff will go on either way.”

This story was first published June 14, 2023 by New Haven Independent.