Thursday, February 24, 2005

Last Rant on Traffic Cameras (I think)

Citing "widespread suspicion and criticism of the program," Council Member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee on the D.C. City Council called a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the traffic camera program. Mendelson had some pointed questions and comments for Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Edward Reiskin, the city's deputy mayor for public safety.

Mendelson asked Ramsey why out of the 40 most dangerous intersections (in terms of the number of accidents), only 11 of them had red light traffic cameras. Think about that for a moment. Nearly three-fourths of the 40 most dangerous intersections do not have red light cameras. You would think that if these cameras were about safety, that at least a majority of these intersections would have cameras. Ramsey's response is that he did not want to pull cameras out of intersections where accidents and red-light has gone down and see it spike back up. Ramsey failed to answer Mendelson's question. He wasn't asking Ramsey to pull out the red light cameras out of some intersections and put them in others. He was questioning on why some intersections have cameras and why others don't. Ramsey pulled the old politician trick of let me answer the question I wished you asked me, so I can stick to my talking points.

But the lack of firm answers was not most troubling aspect of yesterday's hearing. Mendelson questioned Reiskin about a letter from Mayor Anthony Williams to the City Council concerning the approval of ACS's contract with the city. ACS is responsible for processing and sending out all traffic camera tickets. In the letter Mayor Williams said there is "an urgent need to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues." The letter makes no mention of any safety concerns if ACS contract is not renewed. Very interesting. Mayor Williams does have a point. When the program brings in close to $100 million in six years that would hurt the city's coffers significantly if the program was no longer around. But the city reluctantly takes the $100 million because hey this is about safety (excuse me while I let out a good laugh). Of course after the City Council received the letter, they renewed ACS's contract.

While the City Council renewed ACS's contract, some of the City Council members may have wanted to take a closer look at the fine print. Mendelson criticized the new contract with ACS, which calls for a flat fee of $651,735 a month, and an additional $19,500 to $23,000 for every group of 2,500 citations that exceeds the monthly threshold of 53,750 tickets. Let's see you have a for-profit company that potentially gets more money if they write more tickets. Oh I'm sure that won't lead to abuse. In fact, the city seems to be practical counting on that being the case, as part of the contract states, "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." Again, at $30 to $200 bucks a pop, the city could generate $100 million not in six years, but in one year! Ramsey claimed that he did not know about the provision. I'm sure as one of the biggest champions, Ramsey keeps himself blissfully ignorant of all the details of the traffic program.

The more I find out about the traffic program, the more disgusted I become of it. On a positive note, WUSA in Washington, D.C. is reporting that the House of Delegates in Virginia was successfully able to fight off efforts by the Virginia Senate to renew the traffic camera program after the renewal of the traffic camera program died in a House of Delegates committee last week.