- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Two members of Congress who represent the Washington suburbs are asking whether a D.C. traffic-enforcement program that has raked in more than $10 million in fines with almost half of that coming from Maryland drivers has become a de facto "commuter tax."
"We are looking at the issue, and we want to look at it further if they [the District] are unfairly targeting Maryland drivers," said Amaya Smith, spokeswoman for Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat whose district includes Prince George's County and part of Montgomery County. "We have received information on the discrepancy that Maryland drivers are getting more tickets than anyone else."
According to the District's statistics on the cameras, the bulk of the tickets generated by their speed cameras are issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers on the city's major commuter routes.
In the nine months before April, the District issued 251,474 tickets, with fines totaling more than $10 million, with about half of those tickets going to Marylanders and 14 percent going to Virginians.
Since expanding the automated traffic enforcement to include speed cameras last summer, city and police officials have insisted that the program's intention is to make neighborhood streets safer, not to generate millions in revenue for the District.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican whose district includes Montgomery County and who chairs the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, is concerned that statistics may indicate otherwise.
"We're going to be asking the city to give us information on what criteria they used in selecting the routes that are being monitored," said D.C. subcommittee spokesman Robert White. "We want to get an idea why Maryland drivers are getting so many tickets."
Other Maryland and Virginia congressmen said they understand why constituents are upset about the cameras, but were reluctant to question the District's traffic-enforcement methods.
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said he supports the cameras and that the idea of them being used as a commuter tax is "just silly."
"I think it is a source of revenue, but people have a clear choice to obey the traffic laws or pay the fines," Mr. Moran said.
He said that if people know they are being watched "they are more likely to obey the traffic laws."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf, both Virginia Republicans, and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, declined requests to answer questions on the issue.
The District has had little success persuading Congress to allow the city to impose a commuter tax on Maryland and Virginia residents working in the city, and using city services and roads. Two-thirds of the city's workers live in the neighboring states.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said the traffic-enforcement program looks like the District's attempt to create a commuter tax.
"The enforcement has the same affect as a commuter tax. Most of the tickets go to Maryland," said Richard Diamond, spokesman for Mr. Armey. "If you look at the system, it is very transparent."
Sixty-one percent of the speed-camera violations have gone to drivers in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, while 67 percent of red-light camera tickets have gone them.
Mr. Diamond also questioned the role Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc. has in collecting the data from the cameras and deciding who gets a ticket.
He also said the company's role in a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study which suggested that red-light infractions have dropped by 64 percent where the cameras have been installed puts the credibility of the study in question.
The District has five speed-camera units that rotate to different locations in the city. Two of those units were down for repairs during January and February. One speed-camera unit is permanently positioned near Gallaudet University on Florida Avenue.
The speed cameras, which have been operating since August, have issued 251,474 tickets and generated more than $10,477,677 in fines through March, according to the Metropolitan Police Department Web site.


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