Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The D.C. government’s traffic-camera contract provides the contractor with a flat monthly fee and extra money based on the number of citations issued, angering critics who say profits, not safety, drive the use of the technology.

The District has agreed to pay ACS State & Local Solutions a fixed fee of $651,735 per month to handle speed and red-light tickets, according to a six-month contract extension approved in December. The previous monthly fee was $759,992.

However, a new provision allows ACS to receive more money if the city issues more tickets. If the company handles more than 53,750 citations in any given month, the city must pay between $19,500 to $23,000 for every group of 2,500 citations that exceeds the monthly threshold.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s latest monthly statistics show about 32,000 speed-camera citations and about 8,000 red-light violations per month. But contracting records predict a sharp increase in the number of tickets to motorists.

“If the city were to roll out everything contemplated in the District’s plan, the city could be issuing over 103,300 photo-enforcement tickets per month,” the contract states.

Under that scenario, the city would pay ACS more than $1.3 million per month.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, is scheduled to hold a hearing today on the police department’s deployment of photo-radar cameras. He said the city might be using cameras to generate revenue.

Kevin Morrison, director of corporate communications for the police department, said four new fixed-location speed cameras could explain, in part, why officials are predicting such a big increase in camera-based citations.

Police officers recently placed the speed cameras at the 4700 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW, the 2800 block of Benning Road NE, the 100 block of Michigan Avenue NE and the 5400 block of 16th Street NW.

“Having 24-hour-per-day stationary cameras does generate more citations than the occasional deployment of a motor vehicle would,” Mr. Morrison said.

The ACS contract, approved by the D.C. Council in December, calls for the new fee structure because of a “potentially significant increase in volume” of tickets.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams urged approval of the contract in December in a letter to Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, that cited “an urgent need … to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues.” The letter did not mention public safety.

Since August 2001, speed cameras have been placed in eight police cruisers that monitor 75 designated spots throughout the District. The program has generated more than $63 million in fines. Fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.

In 2002, the District amended its camera contract from paying the contractor on a per-ticket basis to a flat fee amid concerns that the program was driven by profits.

Those concerns deepened with the new contract provision, John Townsend, a spokesman for the AAA Mid-Atlantic Motor Club, said yesterday. He called the new contract provision “intolerable and egregiously wrong.”

“On one hand, the District is saying the number of violations is falling, yet now there is an incentive to write more tickets,” Mr. Townsend said. “It’s like the Wild West. It’s not about law and order; it’s about putting a bounty on motorists.”

Mr. Morrison disputed the notion that revenue concerns drive use of automated camera technology. He said police base their decisions on where to place cameras on how they can best improve public safety.

Police have credited the cameras with a reduction in traffic fatalities from 69 in 2003 to 45 in 2004.

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