Brent Batten: Free Wi-Fi and live video cameras are the CAT's meow

Passengers circulate around the Collier Area Transit Intermodal Transfer Station at the Collier County Government Center on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in East Naples.

Smile, you’re on CAT bus camera!

Or at least you will be, if things go according to plan.

Collier County commissioners are set Tuesday to apply for a $316,250 federal grant to outfit Collier Area Transit buses with live video cameras.

The cameras, to be placed inside and outside all 25 buses in the county fleet, will feed to the system headquarters, where they can be monitored in real time.

The buses already have cameras, but they just record, and the recording must be retrieved if anyone wants to see what the camera catches.

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Additionally, the grant would enable CAT to offer free Wi-Fi to riders, something people have been asking for, said Michelle Arnold, executive director of public transit for the county.

Brent Batten

“We’ve been trying to enhance the technology on our buses to provide more features for the public,” Arnold said.

Arnold said she hasn’t decided on a Wi-Fi password for the bus users.

“Some of my techie people probably have,” she joked.

The cameras are mainly for security. Activity on all the buses will be monitored, and if a driver has a concern, he or she can press a button that will instantly call the monitor’s attention to that bus.

In the past, cameras have proved useful in investigating incidents and even crimes.

“We’ve had the Sheriff’s Office ask for them when they’ve had something occur in a particular area where our buses traverse,” she said.

The new cameras will record as well as give a live feed.

The $316,250 federal grant requires a local match of about $79,000. That money would come from excess toll revenue the county receives from the state. The state has already approved its portion of the grant. 

Assuming commissioners approve the application, the county would seek bids from companies willing to provide the cameras and Wi-Fi equipment.

A separate item on the Tuesday agenda seeks another grant, this one for $220,000 to upgrade 10 bus stops on CAT routes.

Improvements would include making the stops compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act by adding ramps and better surfaces.

It would also add shelters to the 10 stops.

Last year CAT ridership came to just under 900,000.

Passengers logged 6.5 million miles with an average trip length of 7.25 miles.

Arnold said the system is always looking for ways to improve the service.

In December, CAT buses began free service from the Conner Park parking area to nearby beaches in North Naples to improve beach access without adding beach parking.

More: Collier to consider parking garage at Clam Pass Park to improve beach access

She said she’ll be watching a new service launched Monday in Lee County where the LeeTran system is using open air shuttles to move people along Fort Myers Beach.

More: Free tram service to replace trolley on Fort Myers Beach north end

The shuttles, similar to those in use at many theme parks, offer easy access on and off to make riding more convenient.

“The unique thing is the type of vehicle they’re using,” Arnold said, adding that if the free service proves popular, something similar could be added here.

Who knows, maybe they’ll even have free Wi-Fi.

Special coverage: Beach out of reach

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