- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If there were ever any doubt that speed cameras are nothing but a dishonest cash grab, look no further than Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s “no new taxes” budget, released Friday morning. Boldly titled “Seizing Our Future,” Mr. Gray’s spending blueprint is more about seizing cash from the wallets of Virginia and Maryland drivers.

The District faces a $172 million deficit, which Mr. Gray proposes to solve with $69 million in “gap-closing revenue initiatives” and some reductions in demand for services. The biggest chunk of additional revenue - $31 million this year and $40 million next year - will come from “increased traffic calming.” That’s code for more speed cameras.

American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the District’s for-profit traffic-camera henchman, will take a $5.8 million slice of the loot in return for generating the mountain of extra citations. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) says ATS will use four techniques to raise the expected revenue. According to budget documents, “MPD will acquire new photo and laser radar equipment and expand the scope of automated enforcement activity to include ‘speed on green’ cameras that capture vehicles exceeding the speed limit through intersections and mobile red light and stop sign violations.” The spending outline also proposes “laser-based speed units” in tunnels, “gridlock enforcement” and “pedestrian crossing violations.”

While it sounds ominous, it’s also familiar. Then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty made the same pledge in his budget in 2009. In fact, The Washington Times was first to report, a decade ago, on the full details of the District’s photo-radar contract with Lockheed Martin IMS, the vendor at the time. “Speed on green” has been on the agenda from the very beginning.

From a technical standpoint, it only takes a simple software upgrade to turn red-light cameras into speed cameras, but it hasn’t happened. D.C. mayors need to pander to the vocal, anti-automobile activists in their leftist base who applaud any talk of “crackdowns” on drivers. Mayors also need to make their budget plans appear to reach balance by adding in big revenue numbers. Last year, the camera shakedown generated $33.7 million in profit, or $54 per resident.

To be sure, the city and the camera operators recently have been ratcheting up the pain for drivers, but doubling the annual hit to more than $100 per resident can backfire easily. As experience has shown with the failed photo ticketing programs in Los Angeles and Houston, there’s only so much that drivers will take before they simply stop paying the citations. The L.A. city council dumped them after Angelenos in droves began tossing violation notices in the trash. Houstonians took it a step further by using the ballot box to oust the hated machines from their streets.

The District is already oversaturated with robotic cameras. The latest batch of low-profile automated ticketing machines sneakily concealed on downhill stretches of road already have sparked commuter outrage. Should Mr. Gray actually follow through with his promises, the extra lucre isn’t likely to last long before voters take matters into their own hands.

The Washington Times

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