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!