METRO needs safety and security improvements costing millions, says study

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by Jeremy Rogalski / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 12:18 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 24 at 8:23 AM

HOUSTON -- Houston’s public transportation system needs a $16 million upgrade to improve security and riders’ safety.

That’s according to a comprehensive study that took the I-Team six months to obtain. METRO and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t want it released due to “sensitive security information.”

The report cost roughly $500,000 to produce, and is nearly 500 pages long. It outlines major security deficiencies and provides a ranking of which METRO facilities are most vulnerable. But those rankings were redacted by the Transportation Security Administration.

“There is always going to be a lot of work that's ongoing when you're trying to stay focused on public safety," said METRO interim CEO Tom Lambert.

The biggest of big-ticket items concerns METRO's park and ride lots, where two years ago, the I-Team revealed alarming problems—such as nearly 700 cameras disconnected or not working properly, or how all cameras at a park and ride lot were lost for days or even weeks.

“It gives (thieves) the advantage, it gives them an opportunity,” said METRO commuter Stephan Robinson.

The security study points out Park and Ride lots are just "too large (for cameras) to provide adequate full -time views.” It also states when a crime occurs, "many times the evidence needed is not within view of the cameras."

The study recommends a 14.6 million dollar fix.

The reaction from commuters?

“Oh wow,” one rider said.

“It should be a priority to get taken care of,” another added.

So the I-Team asked METRO about priorities.

I-Team: “Point blank, can you pay for all of this?”

Lambert: “No, I think we have to balance cost to needs.”

Lambert emphasized that METRO’s overall crime rate is extremely low—107 incidents at Park and Ride lots all last year, and just 36 crimes at METRO transit centers, while the transit system handled 84 million passengers.

He said the study is not the end-all to METRO safety.

"Some things we agree with some things we don't agree with, but we opened ourselves up to take a very critical assessment and I think organizations should do things like that,” Lambert said.

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