D.C. camera deal ignores U.S. rules

The District’s latest traffic-camera contract rauns counter to federal guidelines and expert recommendations that warn against paying contractors based on the number of citations they issue because such pay plans erode public support for the automated programs.

“Where a private contractor is responsible for the processing of citations, compensation to private vendors based on the number of citations issued should be avoided,” the Federal Highway Administration said in a report on red-light cameras last month.

“Compensation should be provided solely on the value of the equipment or the services provided,” the federal report states.

The District recently extended its red-light and speed camera contract with ACS State & Local Solutions to include a new compensation plan for the vendor. The new contract provides a $651,735 monthly fee and an extra $23,000 for each group of 2,500 tickets the vendor issues over a threshold of 53,750.

Previously, the city had paid ACS a fixed monthly fee of $759,992.

According to the agreement, city officials are projecting the number of citations issued in the District could increase to as many as 130,750 per month. Under that scenario, ACS would receive $1.3 million a month, according to the contract.

Jack Archer, legal counsel for the Virginia-based National Committee for Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, said most transportation experts agree with the federal guidelines against tying compensation to ticket volume.

“When you link compensation to the number of tickets issued, you create a question in the minds of the public,” Mr. Archer said. “You’re raising the question of whether this is a revenue raiser, and that’s a horrible thing to do.”

Instead, localities should pay vendors on a fixed-fee basis regardless of the number of citations motorists receive, he said.

Since August 2001, speed cameras have generated more than $63 million in fines for the District. The fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.

City officials were unavailable to comment on the federal guidelines yesterday.

The city’s new pay plan has heightened criticism of the District’s camera program from the AAA Mid-Atlantic Motor Club, which termed the city’s deployment of speed and red-light cameras “a Gotcha Game for Greenbacks” in a press release issued this week.

Thomas W. Brahams, executive director of the D.C.-based Institute of Transportation Engineers and a supporter of automated cameras, said fixed-fee agreements are the best way to reimburse contractors.

“Keeping it 100 percent pure is desirable, and the call to agencies in the District of Columbia is to find a way within the system that allows them to do so and to keep the vendor solvent,” he said.

In general, financial incentives can help government officials get better service from contractors, said Steven L. Schooner, co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University.

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