Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The District signaled it will expand its automated traffic enforcement program by extending its contract with the company in charge of the city’s red- light and speed camera technology.

By July, the Metropolitan Police Department said it wants to add five new fixed-location speed cameras to the five already in use, increase red light cameras from 39 to 50 and deploy two new vans to nab speeders in road construction zones.

The expansion of the program comes after the District awarded contract extensions to ACS State and Local Solutions Inc. for approximately $4.4 million to process tickets, and $7.8 million to continue running the District’s speed and red light cameras.

The latest agreement with ACS, approved earlier this month, also keeps in place a compensation plan enacted recently that is unpopular with the AAA Mid-Atlantic motor club and some transportation experts.

The pay plan provides ACS a fixed monthly fee of $651,735, but it includes extra money for the company if the number of citations it issues exceeds 53,750 per month.

ACS can earn an extra $19,500 to $23,000 for every group of 2,500 citations above the threshold.

“Up until now we have not reached that threshold,” Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Kevin Morison said yesterday. “Once we complete the current expansion, we anticipate that will happen.”

Some observers say such arrangements undermine public support for the camera program by raising questions about whether safety or profits drive the use of the technology.

Earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration issued a report on red light cameras, discouraging the practice of paying contractors based on the volume of citations.

“Compensation should be provided solely on the value of the equipment or the services provided,” the federal report stated.

AAA Mid-Atlantic has said linking compensation to the volume of tickets could pose a conflict of interest for the company because ACS provides input in choosing locations to deploy cameras.

“We still have no evidence that the [police] have taken a look at the fine print in this contract,” AAA spokesman John Townsend said yesterday.

“We understand the enthusiasm for red light and speed cameras, … but that doesn’t mean you still don’t watch the chicken coop,” Mr. Townsend said.

“There have to be safeguards in place to make sure the taxpayer is not being taken advantage of.”

ACS spokesman Joseph M. Barrett referred specific questions about the latest contract to the Metropolitan Police Department.

“In general, ACS operates under contract provisions that vary from city to city according to needs,” Mr. Barrett wrote in a response to questions from The Washington Times, “but our preference is a contract that has a straight flat fee.”

Police officials have said the city, not ACS, has the final say on where cameras should go. They insist safety always drives the decision.

Mr. Morison said the threshold provision in the ACS contract is temporary. He said officials prefer a fixed-fee arrangement but included the threshold because of uncertainty over how many tickets will be generated once the expansion is rolled out.

“We need some experience under our belt … to see what the level is going to be,” Mr. Morison said.

“We’re set to announce some additional expansion,” he added. “More cameras will mean more tickets … and they need to be compensated for that.”

Mr. Morison said police will monitor ticket volume for 90 days following the expansion. “Then we’ll sit down and negotiate with the current contractor on a fixed fee,” he said.

The latest ACS contract states that the automated cameras program has “successfully increased safety across the city” by reducing speed-related traffic fatalities, speeding and red-light running.

It also notes that the program has more than paid for itself over the years.

“As an enforcement byproduct, the programs have proved to be financially self-sustaining by bringing in revenue … that far exceeds what [the District] has paid out to the contractor,” the contract states.

Since August 2001, speed cameras have generated more than $63 million in fines. Red light cameras fines have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.

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