EDITORIAL: The District’s latest scamera swindle

Cheaper tickets won’t mean less revenue for city

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The D.C. Council is poised to lower the cost of speed camera tickets from a maximum of $250 to just $50. The plan unveiled on Tuesday is meant to create the impression that the District has seen the light and has finally decided to go easier on motorists. Considering the source of the latest plan, that’s hardly likely.

The District and the for-profit vendor in charge of the robotic cameras dish out more tickets in a year than the city has residents. This has created a pile of loot so lofty that it’s only a matter of time before it crosses the $100 million per year mark. That looks bad, so Councilman Tommy Wells and Councilman Mary M. Cheh decided to set up a task force to draft legislation reducing the fines.

Of course, Mr. Wells and Ms. Cheh both adore speed cameras, and their hand-picked task force was a love fest of like-minded people who don’t drive cars. Members included the AARP, the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council and the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council. Bureaucrats from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the District Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Police Department also had seats at the table. The lone representative who might stand up for motorists, AAA-Mid-Atlantic, has a record of lobbying in favor of ticket cameras everywhere in the region.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn the new plan actually makes classic business sense. A high-volume, low-margin approach is what makes stores like Walmart a financial success. So instead of shaking down drivers for an average of $120 per ticket, the proposed law would trade the lower fines for more cameras. This is how Maryland has used modest $40 fines to haul in $77 million per year, according to the calculation of the StopBigBrotherMD.org website.

The smaller fines carry other advantages. Payment and collection rates will rise as it’s easier to write a check for the more affordable fine amount. Drivers who might vigorously fight a $250 citation will decide it’s not worth the effort to do so over a mere $50.

To prevent loss of revenue, the city will have to boost the number of speed camera locations — something it has clearly been doing over the past several months. The legislation introduced Tuesday goes further by dedicating half of the city’s share of camera profit to a new Automated Traffic Enforcement Road Safety Fund. The first use of this money will be the “Expansion and improvement of the automated enforcement system, including increasing the number and types of automated enforcement cameras, and improved public information campaigns and signage.”

So the fines will be cheaper, but there will be more tickets and more government-funded propaganda telling us how lucky we are to be shaken down. What really happens on the streets of the nation’s capital is that brake lights flash as people approach the roadside thievery stations. Traffic bunches up, creating an extremely hazardous condition.

D.C. officials don’t care about that, as long as their Arizona-based vendor keeps the money rolling in.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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