Deadly Red Like Cameras Return to Alexandria, VA

June 17, 2009

Reprinted with permission from thenewspaper.com:

Alexandria will pick your pocket starting July 15.

Alexandria will pick your pocket starting July 15.

Red light cameras have returned to Northern Virginia. The city of Alexandria announced for the first time yesterday that a private company has re-installed cameras at three intersections with citations going out on July 15. Until now, the city has been quiet about the revived program, hoping to avoid a public discussion of the controversy over accidents that persuaded the legislature to shut down the program in 2005.

According to a report by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the total number of accidents increased 43 percent at the Alexandria intersections where red light cameras were used. Across the five main cities in the state using cameras, the report found an overall increase in injury accidents of 18 percent. This time, Alexandria did not consider bringing back cameras for safety purposes.

“The Red Light Camera program is not considered a core public safety service,” Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartman wrote in a March 24, 2008 memo to the city council.

Instead, the city has missed the revenue from the 82,000 tickets issued over the lifetime of the program.

“Collections through May were eleven percent lower than collections last year because of the elimination of red light camera revenue,” Hartman explained in a June 2006 city budget memo after the program was terminated. “Based on collections-to-date and projected collections, staff projects that fines and forfeitures will approximate $3.8 million, a decrease of $0.1 million below the Approved FY 2006 Budget.”

The return of red light cameras is helping to boost ticket collections for Fiscal Year 2010 to $4.6 million, an 11.8 percent increase from the previous year. With three cameras installed, gross photo ticket revenues are expected to be $450,000 per year with private vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) pocketing $180,000. Payments to ATS are made through a “cost neutral” contract which compensates ATS on a per-ticket basis up to a level capped at approximately $5000 per intersection per month. The group CameraFraud.com argues that this arrangement directly violates a state law banning per-ticket payments for red light camera programs.

To deflect the appearance that revenue is the program’s sole focus, Alexandria places general budget expenses on the red light camera program account to reduce the apparent net profit generated. The city is once again adding “special police officers” (SPOs) to the red light camera payroll to “review” citations at a total cost of $115,000 per year in salary.

“Alexandria uses SPOs rather than sworn police officers to review the Red Light Camera images,” a March 2008 city memo explained. “The SPO is a less expensive civilian, uniformed position with limited enforcement powers.”

Vendor presentations explain that it takes less than twenty seconds to “review” and give the private company permission to mail a red light camera citation. In 2005, Alexandria generated an average of 1550 such citations each month, at which rate these two SPOs would split a total of nine hours worth of work per month. In reality, such reviews either are not done or are done as “bulk approvals” where entire stacks of citations are electronically signed with a single mouse click. Evidence shows that Alexandria’s SPOs in reality served as little more than security guards.

“The SPOs handled all reviews of the citation images while performing their primary security duties at 2003 Mill Road and the police offices at 2034 Eisenhower Avenue,” the March memo explained. “Their security functions at 2003 Mill Road had been largely assumed by the Sheriff’s Office, which screens all visitors as they enter the parking lot.”

Revenue may not meet expectations once motorists who receive citations from the new Alexandria or Virginia Beach red light camera program realize that they may safely discard them without payment. Although the legislature reinstated the red light camera program in 2007, it did not change the requirement that tickets must be personally served to be valid. VDOT explained this issue in 2005.

“Although the statute permits the jurisdiction to make the initial attempt to summon the accused to court via mail, if the person fails to respond, he or she is not considered to have been satisfactorily served with notice,” VDOT explained (view report). “The average citizen is probably not aware of this loophole, but if word were widely disseminated, such knowledge could completely undermine the effectiveness of red light camera programs, as citations issued to violators would lose their practical impact.”

Original article here.


Join DC CameraFraud’s First Protest on Sunday, 2/15

February 10, 2009

The DC branch of CameraFraud.com is ready to try its first-ever protest this Sunday in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Come and join us if you can — or encourage your friends to do so if you can’t make it.

Date: Sunday, 2/15/2009

Time: 1:00pm – 3:00pm (max)

Place: Chevy Chase Village in Montgomery County, MD at the Connecticut Avenue speed cameras

Directions:

Overview of location (click to enlarge)

Overview of location (click to enlarge)

Take the beltway to Exit 33, Connecticut Avenue/hwy 185 South towards Chevy Chase and drive 2.1 miles south.  The cameras are between Oxford Street and Melrose St, at the Chevy Chase Country club.

If you reach the traffic circle, you have gone too far, turn around and go back up Connecticut. Find street parking on Melrose/Newlands/Oxford or other streets to the left (east), but look for no-parking signs signs.

Close-up of location (click to enlarge)

Close-up of location (click to enlarge)

Newlands Street forms a small “island” along Connecticut avenue which is between the two cameras.  This will be our meetup point and main staging area.  Please try to arrive no later than 1:00.

What we will be doing:
We will have a 12′ anti-speed camera banner, and some posterboard signs ready to go.  We will be holding up the banner and signs.  We’ll have some fliers and take pictures and video. Free bumper stickers for the first 10 participants!

Contact StopBigBrotherMD@gmail.com if you have any questions or need more information.


Deadly Red Light Cameras Rejected in Winchester, VA

January 29, 2009

The Frederick County, Virginia Board of Supervisors said “no” to deadly red light cameras last night. The potential for icy roads kept several of us from making the 90 mile trip to speak, but the Northern Virginia Daily reported that the measure was narrowly defeated:

The proposal elicited mixed reaction from supervisors. Gene E. Fisher said he had researched the issue.

“The statistics I have seen show that this decreases accidents,” he said.

But Supervisor Gary A. Lofton said crash statistics he obtained from the Sheriff’s Office indicated there were few accidents caused by motorists running red lights in the county.

Installing cameras would be a “Draconian fix,” he said. Getting caught by the camera would have cost a motorist $50.

Of course, the only statistics Mr. Fisher bothered to look at were the ones in the sales packet provided by whichever red light camera company happened to drop  by his office. No surprise that this “research” did include the comprehensive 2007 Virginia Department of Transportation study that documented the results at red light camera intersections across the Commonwealth:

  • Rear end accidents increased 42%
  • Angle accidents increased 20%
  • Injury accidents increased 18%
  • The total number of accidents increased 29%

Get a copy of the study


Maryland Speed Camera Program: Scams, Conflicts of Interest Everywhere

January 26, 2009

When he Maryland Legislature authorized Montgomery County to use speed cameras in 2006, the people were given certain assurances. One was that there would be no per-ticket payments to speed camera contractors, which would create a financial incentive for contractors to “cheat” to maximize profits. Another was that they would only be used in “residential and school zones”, not major arterial roads. And finally, that they would not be used as cash cows for local governments by earmarking the revenues for (undefined) “public safety” improvements. All of those promises were given to the driving public – and ALL of those promises have since been broken by the Montgomery County Speed Camera Program.

The no-per-ticket-payment requirement was discussed in local government planning sessions and County Council Sessions prior to bidding on the contract, including a comment by now council president Phil Andrews on the May 8th, 2006 that “contractors are not paid based on the number of citations, that’s built-in” (transcript, pdf). Nonetheless the county signed a contract with ACS State and Local Solutions in 2007 which pays the greater of $3000 per van or $16.25 per citation per fully paid citation. That is in violation of article 21-809(j) which states “If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.”

Had the county been open with the public about this after citizens started to take issue, and then promptly renegotiated its contract, this might have been the end of this. But the county had a financial conflict of interest of its own: this contract was also designed to maximize profits for Montgomery County. Instead, they attempted to deceive the public while 2008 legislation authorizing statewide speed cameras was being voted on in March 2008. On March 15th 2008, County Executive Ike Leggett stated in an online town hall session in response to a question about why the county was paying its contractor a 40% cut of the speed camera revenues by stating “Under the contract, we pay a flat fee” (transcript). The 2008 legislation contained a subtle change to the law — changing the definition of a speed monitoring system operator from “an individual who operates” to “A REPRESENTATIVE OF AN AGENCY”. That would have allowed the county to designate anyone they choose as the “operator” of the system, and put into law a “loophole” which the county was trying to use as legal cover. Fortunately, the legislative session ended before the house and senate could reconcile minor differences and make it law.
On May 15th, 2008, County executive Leggett stated that the county would renegotiate its contract. But because of the county’s financial conflict, they instead continued to expand the program. That expansion included the city of Takoma Park signing an agreement to join the contract in September 22, 2008. The resolution appears to require ACS to make a profit for the city:

If the total of the City’s paid citation revenues are less than $2,999.00 per month per mobile unit for two consecutive months or for any two months in a six-month period during the term of the agreement or any renewals, the contract provides for a renegotiation of the per citation rate and/or the monthly minimum compensation payable to the contractor. If the City, in its sole discretion, is not satisfied with the results of such renegotiation or with the revenues derived from the photo speed enforcement program or the City determines that photo speed enforcement is no longer an appropriate enforcement mechanism for the City, then the City may terminate this Agreement for convenience….

Other promises given by the county and state have also proven empty. The requirement that cameras would only be used in “residential and school zones” became meaningless when major 4-6 lane commuter routes such as Connecticut Avenue were used. Other residential zones, have few or no houses nearby, such as the cameras on Montrose road that are located on a bridge at the bottom of a long hill.

Maryland speed trap

Darnestown, Maryland speed trap

The requirements that money be spent on “public safety” were proven meaningless when Chevy Chase village decided that purchasing a new Segway, a locker room, and an office for their police chief constituted “public safety improvements”. Minutes from Chevy Chase village show those items were purchased directly from the safe speed fund.

Finally, promises that they would not be used as cash cows were proven empty when in December 2008 new cameras in Darnestown were placed immediately after the location where the speed limit dropped from 40mph to 30mph. That setup is highly likely to snare any driver who does not react immediately to the changing speed limit.

The Maryland General Assembly is currently in session. Several legislators and Governor O’Malley have pledged to pass legislation which will expand speed cameras to other parts of Maryland. Given the deception Maryland drivers have faced already, it is urgent that you get involved to let them know you will not tolerate more scams, or more scameras!


Virginia Beach Fraud Merchants Try to Pull a Fast One

January 20, 2009

Greedy Virginia Beach city council members talked their state delegates into introducing legislation that would remove the final roadblock to their plan to get rich by trapping drivers with short yellows and badly engineered intersections. Obviously the delegates responsible hoped that nobody would notice their plan. Let them know what you think after reading the article below:

Delegate Robert W. Mathieson
Phone: (757) 470-3000
Email: DelBMathieson@house.virginia.gov

Delegate Joseph F. Bouchard

Phone: (757) 333-2527
Email: DelJBouchard@house.virginia.gov

From TheNewspaper.com:

A bill introduced last week in the General Assembly quietly seeks to eliminate a significant motorist protection built into Virginia’s existing red light camera law. The proposal of a pair of Democratic state delegates representing Virginia Beach, Joseph F. Bouchard and Robert W. Mathieson, would delete just three words from that statute, but the change would have wide-ranging effects. Under current law, cities that want to install traffic cameras must first submit a detailed engineering justification to state transportation experts.

“A locality shall submit a list of intersections to the Virginia Department of Transportation for final approval,” Virginia Code Section 15.2-968.1(J) states.

House Bill 2416 would delete the phrase “for final approval,” eliminating oversight by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) entirely. Many lawmakers reluctantly voted in 2007 to allow the operation of red light cameras only after a handful of provisions were added to ensure municipalities did not simply install automated ticketing machines as a means of obtaining easy revenue. To date, the most powerful of these provisions has been this oversight power which has already been exercised in turning down proposals by the cities of Virginia Beach and Leesburg as unsafe.

VDOT has been careful regarding red light cameras because its own studies in 2005 (view study) and 2007 (view study) showed that accidents increased significantly at the intersections where red light cameras were operational in Virginia. Because VDOT does not share in the revenue generated by a camera, unlike a municipality and its private vendor, lawmakers saw the agency’s participation as an essential third-party check on municipal designs.

VDOT has also been burned in the past by aggressive participation in local red light camera programs. In 1999, the agency shortened the yellow signal duration at a Fairfax County intersection by 1.5 seconds just four days after county officials signed a contract to install red light cameras. Accidents and violations increased dramatically. When VDOT lengthened the signal back to 5.5 seconds a year later, accidents and violations dropped immediately and decisively (view full details).

Shortened yellows are the key to the financial success of red light camera programs. Confidential documents from the private vendor now operating as Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) show that employees were only allowed to install red light cameras at intersections with yellow times of “less than four seconds” and “downhill approaches” (view documents). A Texas Transportation Institute study confirmed that when the yellow light timing was increased one second above the bare minimum amount recommended by the ITE formula, accidents dropped 40 percent (view study).

Bouchard and Mathieson’s proposal would give Virginia Beach and other municipalities the freedom to ignore any engineering improvements — especially lengthened yellow timings — recommended by VDOT.


Fairfax Flouts Law, Adopts Dodgy Deal with Fellow Scofflaws

January 15, 2009

At 1am today, long after the public had left the council chambers and long after those who watch such things on public access cable television had dozed off, Fairfax City Council members approved the dodgy deal with Redflex. Five remained in the audience until the end to point out:

  1. Fairfax cameras increased accidents
  2. The contract is illegal on revenue neutrality and diversion of cash from the literary fund grounds
  3. The city is ignoring superior engineering countermeasures
  4. The tickets are unenforceable
  5. The tickets undermine constitutional protections and privacy

After being threatened with a pair of lawsuits on point #2 above, the council retreated to an hour-long private deliberation away from the public to “consult with the city attorney.” In a cowardly move, members returned for a quick vote that was unanimous in favor of the illegal deal with the lawbreaking Australian company. (Redflex has been fined for violating FCC regulations governing radar and for falsifying documents used in securing speed camera convictions.) No response was offered to the detailed concerns brought by members of the public over the proposal.

There’s still more to do. The Virginia Department of Transportation must approve any proposed camera intersections on engineering grounds, and the council can reconsider its actions at any time. That’s not going to happen unless we let residents know this scam is going on so that they can put pressure on council members:

  • Mayor Robert F. Lederer: RLederer@fairfaxva.gov
  • Joan W. Cross: JCross@fairfaxva.gov
  • Daniel F. Drummond: DDrummond@fairfaxva.gov
  • Jeffrey C. Greenfield: JGreenfield@fairfaxva.gov
  • David L. Meyer: dmeyer@fairfaxva.gov
  • Gary J. Rasmussen: GRasmussen@fairfaxva.gov
  • Steven C. Stombres: SStombres@fairfaxva.gov

Literature drops to get the word out in the community would help. Here’s a flyer to pass out. (PDF)


Fairfax City Proposes Illegal Contract with Australian Company

January 9, 2009

On January 13, the Fairfax city council will adopt a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to install deadly red light cameras at ten intersections in Fairfax, Virginia. How does this work?

Redflex, a company based in Melbourne, Australia, promises to pay the city of Fairfax for the privilege of installing the cameras, reviewing the photographs, creating public relations material promoting the system (i.e. propaganda), repairing any damage, preparing all materials for court hearings, mailing citations and collecting fine payments. It’s all spelled out in Appendix B of the contract (warning: PDF) You might be wondering, if Redflex is doing so much then what role does the city have? The answer is: none. In fact, Fairfax doesn’t even need to go down to the bank and cash its giant monthly check.

Redflex will deposit all of the ticket revenue in the city’s bank account — minus a monthly fee of $4,740 per intersection or a grand total of $568,800  per year. In fact, Redflex guarantees that the city will not, under any circumstances, lose any money on the deal, even if no tickets are ever issued. This so-called “cost neutrality” provision, spelled out in Appendix D, also happens to be illegal.

The contract says:

Cost Neutrality
Cost neutrality is assured to Customer — Customer will never be required to pay Redflex more than actual cash received by Redflex, and such cost neutrality should be reconciled on a monthly basis. This is a material provision of this Agreement and a condition precedent for Customer agreeing to enter into this Agreement.

In other words, despite all the wonderful benefits promised, the city has no interest in paying for its “safety” program. The most important provision in the entire document, the “condition precedent,” is that the city of Fairfax make a profit. We’ll let the reader decide whether that’s a shady motivation or not. Let’s look instead at what the Code of Virginia has to say about it.

A private entity may enter into an agreement with a locality to be compensated for providing the traffic light signal violation monitoring system or equipment, and all related support services, to include consulting, operations and administration….  No locality shall enter into an agreement for compensation based on the number of violations or monetary penalties imposed.

So, let’s think about this. Redflex must be able to keep $4,740 per intersection per month from the cash it collects from motorists. That’s roughly a total of 95 paid tickets. What happens if only half that amount, say 45 tickets, are actually paid? That would mean that Redflex would collect $2,250, but Fairfax would not be required to make up the difference because the contract says: “Customer will never be required to pay Redflex more than actual cash received by Redflex.”

That means if Redflex collects $2,250 in monetary payments, the company — a private entity — will be compensated $2,250. If Redflex collects on one more ticket to $2,300, then Redflex will be compensated $2,300. And so on up to $4,740. There is no getting around the fact that this would be compensation according to the number of violations and the amount of monetary penalties imposed.

An appellate court in California has already considered this issue and struck down a similar contract between the city of Fullerton and a different firm, Nestor Traffic Systems (NTS). The judge ruled:

The possibility that fees could be negotiated ‘down’ if it is determined fees paid to NTS exceed ‘net program revenues being realized,’ indirectly ties fees to NTS to the amount of revenue generated from the program. If insufficient revenue is generated to cover the monthly fee, the fee could be ‘negotiated down.’ As such, NTS has an incentive to ensure sufficient revenues are generated to cover the monthly fee.

So, not only is what Fairfax City proposes to do dangerous, it’s also illegal.