- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A lucrative 2006 for the District’s speed-camera program yielded $30.9 million, a record in the program’s seven-year history. Now we learn that the District will soon feel the pressure from the D.C. Council and contractors to milk this cash cow even more. About half the cameras are in a state of disrepair and thus did not nail every speeder within reach. Once the municipal bureaucrats start crying that the cameras must be fixed — the cries are already disturbing the peace — no one should pay them heed. The best outcome short of removing the cameras would be to leave them unrepaired.

Unknown millions of dollars went unscammed in 2006 because half of the District’s red-light revenue cameras are broken, according to contractor American Traffic Solutions, which leaked a memorandum to The Washington Post. This not-so-veiled move to embarrass the previous contractor, Affiliated Computer Services, and to win the business of repairing the cameras, was met with the usual grave concern. “It’s unconscionable that these have been inoperable,” Council Chairman Vincent Gray told The Post. He then clarified: “I’m not even talking from the revenue perspective. I’m talking from the safety perspective.” Of course he is.

It’s no wonder that Mr. Gray feels the need to clear up the revenue-or-safety question. Everyone knows these cameras are all about the money. They catch cars, not speeders, and using this formula keeps the speeding cars on the road. Ticket revenues from automatic traffic enforcement go into the city’s general fund, not limited to related transit items like road improvements or public transportation. The revenues pad the budget in a constellation of interests that only a council member and his lieges in municipal government could love.

Leaving the cameras in disrepair would actually work best to improve the “safety perspective” that Mr. Gray insists he’s talking about. The perception that the cameras work, not whether they actually do, would compel those speeding cars to slow down. Whether these cameras actually improve public safety is a question still unanswered. The Metropolitan Police Department, which knows better than to oppose the revenue cameras so beloved by the council, nevertheless concedes that it cannot prove the cameras do anything for public safety. The best the cops can do is show the correlation between a decline in traffic fatalities and the installation of the cameras. This doesn’t prove the cameras did it.

The lawmakers and the police could demonstrate to the public that they’re not simply scamming us by leaving the machines in a quiet state of disrepair. That way, they can claim for the cameras whatever traffic-safety improvements they think they public will believe, while showing some restraint in treating the public as just so many pockets to pick.

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