Critical Mass.

Many people cherish Boston’s rich history with its ideas of liberty, freedom and democracy. Few, however, are aware that while Boston is the birthplace of American liberty, it is also the birthplace of American mass transportation, as Bob Wolfe explains.

Each day, hundreds of buses traverse the streets of Boston, carrying hundreds of thousands of commuters. These buses are under the control of Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) which maintains the nation’s fifth largest mass transit system with a total of 183 bus routes and a roster of 1005 diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses, 32 dual mode buses and 28 electric trolley buses (ETBs).

Although lower than in other major transit systems, crime unfortunately does occur on the MBTA. Dozens of crimes are reported on MBTA buses each year, including 29 assaults to MBTA employees last year, along with passenger robberies, sexual offenses, assaults and acts of vandalism. This crime occurs despite the dedicated work of the Transit Police Officers working in partnership with fellow MBTA employees, passengers and community partners to ensure a safe environment for the riding public. The Transit Police has increased high visibility patrols and continues to employ a point of entry policing strategy that aims to prevent offenders from entering the MBTA, and yet problems still exist.

To deter crime, the MBTA recently elected to install high-definition IP cameras and video screens — which allow riders to watch what’s being captured by the cameras on a screen behind the driver’s cab — on 225 buses throughout the transit system as a first step in a long-term process to bring video surveillance to the entire bus and subway fleet. Another 210 buses will be outfitted with the cameras without video screens, bringing high-definition surveillance video to a total of about 40 per cent of the MBTA bus fleet.

The IP cameras are equipped with Verizon’s 4G LTE network to allow the digital video feed inside the bus to be streamed in real time to the MBTA control center, where staff will be able to monitor incidents in real time. The video feed, which provides a 360° view of the inside of buses, will also be available to MBTA Transit Police from inside their cruisers. In the event of an altercation on a bus, for example, police will have a bird’s-eye view of how many people are involved and whether any are armed.

According to Randy Clarke, senior director of security and emergency management for the MBTA, this is the most extensive surveillance program on a major USA transit system. “What we’re trying to do is make everyone on the bus work as an extra set of eyes to help report suspicious behavior or criminal activity,” Clarke said.

The high-tech security cameras and video monitors are being paid for by a US$6.9m grant from the Department of Homeland Security to help police respond to emergencies in real-time and aid in criminal prosecution.

One of the Most Advanced Systems Ever Installed for Mass Transit

Once the decision was made, the MBTA had project specifications developed by the engineering firm Jacobs Engineering and a bid was sent out to interested parties in June 2013. Several integrators responded with Moxa equipment including the company’s network video recorder (NVR), switch, and Wi-Fi components. In the end, Minuteman Security Technologies, Inc. in Andover, MA, was awarded the bid, and selected Moxa’s TN-5516-8PoE-T as the switch for this project.

Minuteman CEO Joseph Lynch called the system his company designed and installed as being: “one of the most advanced multiband wireless IP video systems ever installed in mass transit.”

The main surveillance system comprises an Intel i7 powered rackmount NVR with two recording hard drives running Genetec video recording and display software, along with the Moxa TN-5516-8PoE-T ToughNet managed Ethernet switch, six IP cameras installed inside and outside the bus, Wi-Fi video offload, cellular bus-to-police car communication, and GPS positioning. Video from each camera is recorded and stored on the bus’s NVR.

Each bus can offload the daily video when they park in the bus yard and law enforcement can stream live video from the buses to police cruisers when they are within a certain geographic range of the bus. Two large HD monitors display live video to the bus passengers, letting them see what the six cameras are capturing. Panic buttons allow the driver to tag video incidents for police and other supervisory personnel.

An important capability of the system is that MBTA can remotely manage it from a central location. “We have remote management tools to troubleshoot and repair it in real time, without having to roll a truck,” Lynch said.

At the center of the system is the Moxa TN-5516-8PoE-T switch. Moxa recommended this model because it is able to withstand the shock and vibrations of Boston streets, while also reliably powering the cameras, Wi-Fi, and other on-board IEEE 802.3af powered devices through its EN 50155-compliant Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology with M12 connectors. In addition, the switch works extremely well in the cold Boston winters and hot summers with its extended operating temperature range of -40°C to 75°C. Importantly, it also was available with the lead-time required in a COTS product.

Since Minuteman Security Technologies required local support to help integrate all of their components together, having a local Moxa rep to help made a big difference in making the overall surveillance system a success. For example, when cabling issues popped up, Moxa provided the pin-outs and schematics that allowed Minuteman to create their own custom cables.

Minuteman’s President George Yannakotoulos had such a positive experience with the Moxa switch and its support personnel that he is hopeful to be able to purchase more components from Moxa, such as an NVR and wireless technologies, the next time around. Eventually, transit officials hope to receive funding to place the cameras on all the system’s buses, and on any new train cars incorporated into the system.

Multimodal specifications

The retrofitting of the MBTA’s buses mirrors trends that are occurring in municipalities around the country, according to Todd Desso, Strategic Business Manager at Moxa Americas, Inc: “We are increasingly seeing our equipment spec’d into projects requiring reliable communications onboard moving vehicles, including buses and trains,” says Desso. “Onboard security is an extremely hot topic in transportation, and municipalities around the world have a similar need to incorporate this capability into their existing fleet of vehicles. It’s already happening in Boston, one of the oldest transit systems in the world. It is only a matter of time before all transit vehicles are expected to have high-end surveillance and communications designed in.”


Bob Wolfe is District Manager at Moxa Americas, Inc