- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

D.C. officials have raked in more than $20 million in the first 15 months of the city's photo-radar camera program, exceeding revenue estimates of $11 million annually.
The revenue tally comes about two months after Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he wants to expand the use of traffic cameras because the city needs the money.
"The cameras are about safety and revenue, and the way not to pay that tax is to not be speeding," Mr. Williams said during a press conference in late September.
Officials have collected $20,602,947 from the 275,474 motorists who have paid speeding citations mailed to them since the automated traffic enforcement program began in August 2001. Automated speeding citations have been issued to 408,180 drivers whose cars have been photographed by the photo-radar cameras.
The Metropolitan Police Department's Web site (www.mpdc.dc.gov) says the photo-radar program has delivered about $15.3 million this year and more than $1 million last month.
City officials originally expected to issue 80,000 speeding tickets a month. So far, the number of issued citations has varied each month but hasn't come close to that mark. Last November yielded the most tickets, with 44,532 citations issued.
The District split its revenue with Affiliated Computer Services Inc. the Dallas-based company that took over the contract from Lockheed Martin IMS three weeks after the program began using a per-ticket payment plan in the first eight months of the program.
When the city switched to a flat monthly fee in April, it began to outpace its revenue expectations greatly.
"We don't know if the cameras are doing something to save lives by reducing collisions or slowing traffic. But we do know that it is a cash cow for the District," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA, one of the foremost advocates of traffic safety, last month withdrew its support for the District's traffic camera enforcement program after city officials said revenue was a primary motivation.
Mr. Williams and the D.C. Council decided last month to expand the speed-camera program by adding five more mobile units to the five in use and the one stationary camera on Florida Avenue near Gallaudet University. But they also decided to add photo-radar technology on its 39 red-light cameras, in part to help shrink the city's $323 million budget shortfall.
Metropolitan Police spokesman Kevin P. Morison told The Washington Times last month that the mayor and council's plans and their underlying motivations had not changed the mission of the program for police: to reduce traffic speeds and curtail the number of accidents and serious injuries on city roads.
He said the city has not hidden the fact that the cameras "make money."
Mr. Morison said the police department is pursuing updated accident data to answer some of the lingering questions about the effectiveness of the cameras.
"I have raised the issue several times that we need updated accident data," Mr. Morison said.
The Department of Transportation is responsible for submitting the District's accident data to national databases and compiling an analysis for the city. But the accident data are "not that good" said transportation officials.
Mr. Anderson said he wants to see "good-specific data" detailing speeds, accidents and trends on streets and intersections where cameras have been in place.
"What District motorists deserve is to know how many total crashes and deaths occurred on these roads and what were the average speeds both before the cameras came in and after," he said.
"Right now, this looks like a tax on motorists and there is nothing we can do about it."
Efforts to implement photo-radar programs have failed elsewhere. Several jurisdictions instead have focused on installing red-light cameras.
The Maryland General Assembly this year killed two bills that would have allowed any city or county in the state to obtain photo radar. Senate and House leaders rejected the idea as a "revenue generator" scheme for urban jurisdictions.
Virginia's Republican-led General Assembly last year moved toward letting the red-light camera program end at its cutoff date of 2005. No legislation proposing speed cameras was introduced.


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