Friday, December 5, 2014

Baltimore Inspector General: City Official Tried To Inappropriately Influence Camera Contract Award

A report by the Baltimore City Office of Inspector General (OIG) accused a former high ranking city official of inappropriately trying to influence the award of a speed camera contract in factor for incumbent Xerox State and Local Solutions.  The report also concluded that some city agencies and the city's speed camera vendor did not fully cooperate with the OIG's investigation.

The Baltimore Sun writes:
In a report released Thursday, Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. wrote that Alexander M. Sanchez attempted to help Xerox State & Local Solutions keep a contract to run the city's speed camera system, even though procurement staff said another company had won the bidding process.
That company, Brekford Corp., ultimately was awarded the contract.
But the inspector general faulted Sanchez's efforts, saying the mayoral aide "knowingly used the influence of his office to benefit the best interests of Xerox contrary to the interests of the city and taxpayers." Pearre did not speculate in the report why Sanchez supported Xerox.

The city's speed camera program was run by Xerox corporation for several years, until the contract was ended and the program was briefly run by Brekford Corporation in the beginning of 2013.  The program was shut down amid revelations that erroneous citations had been systematically issued under Xerox's tenure, and that some errors had continued after Brekford took over.  A report by Xerox corporation in December 2012 admitted that tickets issued some cameras had error rates of over 5% (one ticket out of every 20) due to a phenomenon called "radar effects".  An audit which the city later conducted revealed that errors may have been much more widespread, finding based on a sample of citations issued by all cameras had overall error rates of around 10% (ie, one ticket out of every 10 was due to an error).

The city had attempted to keep the audit secret, but it was leaked to the press in January 2014.  The city then tried to discredit the audit, claiming that the contractor who conducted it was "unqualified", but the OIG report stated that the contractor who conducted the audit(URS) was qualified to conduct such an audit.

The OIG report discussed the radar effects:
The City became concerned about the high volume of erroneous citations that were issued to motorists. Xerox contended that several citations issued erroneously throughout the ATVES program were a result of what the radar industry refers to as “known radar effects.” Known radar effects occur when environmental factors such as vehicle size, vehicle shape, equipment placement, number of vehicles, or the angle at which the radar is transmitted and received cause the radar equipment to present an inaccurate reading.  
One example of known radar effects involved large flat-backed trucks being cited for unreasonably high speeds. It was revealed that the large flat backs of these trucks combined with the angle at which certain speed enforcement units were positioned caused the equipment to register the vehicle as traveling at a speed much greater than its actual speed. Because oversized vehicles require a significantly greater stopping distance, which increases as the speed of the vehicle increases, the OIG has concerns about the effectiveness of an enforcement system that is unable to reliably determine if oversized vehicles are driving at speeds considerably above the posted limit within school zones. 
Another example involved citations issued to vehicles stopped at intersections. It was revealed that multiple vehicles and cross traffic were interfering with the enforcement equipment and causing erroneous speed readings. Again the OIG has concerns about the effectiveness of an enforcement system that is placed in a location where environmental factors, such as cross-traffic, would continually interfere with accurate enforcement. 

This seems to affirm that the problems were NOT due to "uncalibrated" equipment.  Documents previously obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance showed that the error-producing cameras "passed" all their automated calibration checks (which are treated as proof of motorist's guilt in court), even on the very same day a camera issued a speeding ticket to a completely stationary vehicle.

The report noted other types of errors as well, attributed to lack of "minimal quality control measures":
1. Inaccurate time stamps on citations2. Inaccurate location information (wrong street, wrong direction)3. Blurred/indistinguishable images on citations4. Duplicate images on citations5. Citations below the 12mph threshold
The report indicated that some who received erroneous citations may have simply paid them "In many instances, paying $40 for an erroneous citation was more cost effective than taking time off from work, if leave options were even available" stated the OIG.

The OIG report also criticized the city's use of a "Bounty System" contract.  "This payment structure, known familiarly as a bounty system, creates an opportunity for abuse of the program," stated the report. "The very nature of the bounty system creates the incentive for vendors to increase the number of citations issued to increase revenue. This incentive to increase citation volume has the potential for emphasizing revenue demands at the expense of quality control efforts."

Somme jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County and College Park, adamantly opposed changes to state law to end "bounty system" contracts... with Montgomery County officials making the questionable assertion that bounty system contract resulted in lower error rates.  The original state law, passed in 2006, contained language intended to ban such arrangements, but Montgomery County created a legal loophole which allowed them to pay their contractor on a per ticket basis .  To this day,most jurisdictions in the state STILL pay their speed camera contractors based on ticket volume.

The OIG report did cite some positive aspects of the city's program however.  In particular, the report noted that the city's speed cameras allowed for verification of speed after the fact, whereas many jurisdictions have adamantly resited making this possible:
All citations issued by automated traffic enforcement systems are required to have two time-stamped images. Several jurisdictions issue citations with timestamps that show only whole seconds or tenths of a second. The City’s ATVES program issued citations with timestamps that show the time of the violation to the hundredth of a second. This additional information allowed for motorists who received citations from the City to re-calculate the speed indicated on the citation. The OIG believes that by including this information on the citation, DOT promoted the integrity of the ATVES program and created additional transparency and accountability

In particular, Montgomery County and the Maryland SHA rounds off timestamps to the second on most of their citations, and in the previous two years they expended substantial taxpayer resources lobbying against legislative changes which would have required accurate timestamps that could have made proving errors by their cameras possible.  Thus if  errors were to take place in those programs, motorists have no means to prove this, nor would there be any audit trail that could be used to investigate any alleged errors in Montgomery County or the SHA's programs, and a report such as the one by the Baltimore OIG or the Audit which concluded there had been errors could never happen if systematic errors were to occur.

The report furthermore noted that they had trouble obtaining information to conduct their investigation, even from some city agencies.  The report stated that:

  • The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) did not respond to the OIG’s initial requests for interviews. Only after the Inspector General met with the Police Commissioner did BPD respond in writing.  Furthermore, BPD’s initial delayed response was incomplete.
  • DOT did not provide the majority of the requested documentation until October 2014 (seven months after the OIG’s initial request). Furthermore, the documentation provided was often in complete and/or unreliable.
  • Brekford Corporation (Brekford) failed to respond or comply with OIG requests for documents and interviews.
  • Xerox State and Local Solutions (Xerox) did not fully comply with the OIG’s requests for documents and did not make appropriate staff available for interviews within the requested time frame

The report further stated that "The difficulty the OIG experienced in obtaining required documentation, reliable data, and access to key personnel for interviews from vendors and city agencies unfortunately resulted in important questions about the ATVES [traffic camera] program remaining unanswered"

Additional Information:
Complete OIG Report Baltimore, Maryland Inspector General Blasts Lack Of Camera Oversight
Baltimore Sun: Ex-mayoral aide accused of trying to help firm get camera contract
Baltimore Sun: Speed camera lobbyist objects to inspector general's report
WBALTV: IG report adds new questions about city's speed camera program Mayor’s ex-chief of staff accused of improper relationship with City Hall lobbyist
WBFF: Report on Baltimore's Speed Camera Program Confirms Problems

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bill Presented in Congress that Would Band DC Speed Cameras, Discourage State Programs

WTOP reports that a bill has been introduced in congress that would limit the use of speed and red light cameras in DC

"Two outgoing House Republicans have put forward a bill that would run the oft-reviled cameras out of town.
The Safer American Streets Act prohibits the "use of automated traffic enforcement systems in the District of Columbia."
It specifically bans the use of the cameras and the information they obtain.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, and Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Michigan, put the bill forward.

In addition to banning DC speed cameras, one provision of Stockman's bill would withhold 10 percent of certain federal aid highway funds from any state or local government that uses automated traffic enforcement systems.

DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton opposed the measure, and asserted that "I can only think that they must have been caught by one of the red-light cameras or one of the speed cameras,"  without providing evidence to support her conclusion (other than the general presumption of guilt which photo enforcement advocates typically demonstrate).  However Delegate Norton Holmes admitted that she had been caught by a photo enforcement system herself.

DC's speed cameras recently came under criticism by their own Inspector General, who reported that the city's speed camera and parking ticket programs placed the burden of proof on motorists, that the city lacked a conclusive way to determine which vehicle was speeding, and that the city's training manual "instructs reviewers to accept violations and issue tickets in certain instances where the type of vehicle captured in the ATE images does not comport with information obtained through MPD’s search of vehicle registration".   Photo enforcement programs have come under fire in other jurisdictions such at Chicago, where the former CEO of the city's red light camera contractor was indicted for bribery, and also in Baltimore where the program was shut down after it was revealed that the city was systematically issuing erroneous citations to innocent motorists based on false speed readings due to a phenomenon called "radar effects".  Last month voters in three US jurisdictions rejected photo enforcement programs in popular referendums by overwhelming majorities.  Out of 34 referendums conducted on red light and speed cameras in the US so far, voters rejected cameras 31 times (91%).

Read Text of HR 5755

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Voters in Three More States Reject Photo Enforcement

Voters in four US jurisdictions had the opportunity to vote on red light or speed cameras yesterday, and voters rejected the cameras.  From

Voters in four jurisdictions were emphatic Tuesday in sending the message to local politicians that they do not want speed cameras or red light cameras in their community. By margins of over 70 percent, residents of Cleveland and Maple Heights, Ohio; Sierra Vista, Arizona (with 26 percent of votes tallied); and St. Charles County, Missouri voted to add themselves to the growing list of cities and counties that have outlawed photo ticketing."After four-and-a-half years we've finally done it," initiative organizer Jason Sonenshein told TheNewspaper. "It's great to have finally accomplished our goal."
With the vote was 77.5 percent in favor of the ban, Sonenshein expressed surprise at how late in the election campaign that Xerox, the city's private camera vendor, began pouring money into saving the lucrative program. Local radio and television advertisements featured former Senator George Voinovich praising cameras on Xerox's behalf. At the end of the night, it turned out not to matter with late results matching the sentiment of the early returns.
Activists in nearby Maple Heights also spent their time and effort with street-corner protests to bring awareness to the ballot initiative, not having the funding for a slick advertising campaign like the camera industry does.

"City hall has violated our right to make our opinions heard," the Maple Heights initiative sponsors wrote. "They refused to listen to input from the public about these cameras. They then cost the city thousands of dollars fighting to stop residents from introducing a ballot initiative to ban the cameras."
By a vote of 76.6 percent, the public approved the ban on cameras.
In St. Charles, Missouri, it was the county council, not a petition, that put the question of a photo ticketing ban on the ballot. County Councilman Joe Brazil came up with the measure as a means of reining in automated ticketing in St. Peters. Len Pagano, the town's mayor, insisted it violates "local control" to allow voters to decide such an issue. They did decide by a margin of 72.6 percent that the cameras should be banned.
In Sierra Vista, Arizona, Redflex employee Cristian Pop provided the pre-election drama by sabotaging the sign of the initiative proponents.

"That's my job," Pop explained to the police officer who asked why he tore down the sign.
Pop admitted to the officer that he tore down the sign because he disagreed with it. Criminal damage charges were postponed until after the election, but the delay ended up not helping save the program, which fell in a vote of 76 percent against with 26 percent of the votes tallied.
To date, photo enforcement has been defeated in 31 of 34 election contests (view complete list).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Opinion: Maryland Elected Officials Take Motorists For Granted

When it comes to motorist issues, Maryland is suffering from a serious case of "entitled incumbent syndrome".   As motorists sit idle in traffic, there seem to be no concrete proposals for improving the situation.

In the past four years we've seen the legislature pass an 80% increase in the state gas tax, most of which will be phased in after the coming election.  And other driving costs, such as vehicle registration fees, have roughly doubled as well. Yet it appears that most of this money is tagged to go towards transit projects, and maintenance of existing roads, with few if any new roads or bridges scheduled to address chronic deficiencies in our road network anywhere in the state.

State Lawmakers diverted a billion dollars from the transportation trust fund to fix budget shortfalls.  Now we are told to vote for a "locked box" ballot question (which motorists SHOULD vote for, even though it is an imperfect protection, since we have no better option available to us at this time) in order to save us from similar diversions in the future.  But wouldn't it be so much better if we had a legislature committed to keeping it's promises to the driving public in the first place, rather than having a new promise they might still look for some way to break in a pinch?

Maryland has already seen a roughly 75% increase in toll rates, in addition to the high tolls set on the ICC.  Those rates were set by an un-elected body, appointed by the O'Malley Brown administration.

See Also: The Maryland Transportation Authority: An Opaque, Unaccountable Institution that Needs To Change

There is no reason to believe that the anti-motorist sentiment in the current administration or the current legislature has changed, and it seems optimistic to think that all the measures to increase costs on driving are done.

Two years ago the Maryland DOT came up with a proposal to "establish a GHG emission-based road user fee (or VMT fee) statewide by 2020 in addition to existing motor fuel taxes", which would essentially require tracking the travels of every vehicle in the state, possibly with GPS or a device similar to an EZPass, and then billing us for miles traveled.  Now we are told this intrusive, Orwellian idea is off the table and a political non-starter.  But if this is really a non-starter, then why did the administration send the DOT to tell the legislature that they wanted to keep the option for a VMT Tax open?  In 2013 the MD Department of Transportation sent their spokesperson to speak against a bill that would have banned the state from imposing a VMT tax and argued for the administration "This is a new and somewhat of an emerging direction and option that is being pursued and looked at for transportation funding, we think we're strongly against any sort of options being limited right now.  These are things that are new and are things that we need to consider as we go forward as we look for new and more sustainable sources of revenue."

There are "think tanks" across the country, who have no concern about the cost to motorists or the civil liberties implications of such a plan, which are pushing for the idea of a VMT tax, and the federal government has been promoting and funding pilot programs into VMT taxes.  And if this is not really a dead issue, then which Anthony Brown should we listen to?  The one who's name appeared on the DOT proposal calling for a Vehicle Mile Traveled (VMT) Tax to be imposed on top of existing gas taxes by 2020, or the one who tells voters in an election year that he won't impose this (for now)?  And why would a friend to motorists put their name on such a proposal in the first place if they have no intention of putting something essentially similar in place if more politically pallet-able semantics can be devised to describe it?  Indeed the DOT's 2035 plan still calls for evaluating "congestion pricing", a concept which could eventually end up producing something very much like a VMT tax but under a different name.

That same 2035 transportation plan makes clear that there are few if any new roads or bridges in the works.  Motorists who have been asked to bear a huge increases in taxes, tolls, and fees can expect to see little more than a few potholes filled, and at least half of their gas taxes paying for transit project that run nowhere near most of their homes. Motorists frustrated by known chronic problems caused by bottlenecks such as the I-270 spur/American Legion Bridge in the Washington Region can rest assured there is absolutely no project in this 20 year plan designed to even attempt to solve that.  It seems at times as if the state has little strategy to alleviate traffic congestion other than to try to tax drivers like you off the road  --  the region's ability to sustain economic growth be damned.

Montgomery County Incumbents Think Drivers Don't Matter
Meanwhile in Montgomery County Incumbents seem to be tripping over themselves to prove which of them hates motorists more.  We've seen that in Montgomery County, the incumbents are happy with high tolls on the ICC, and are pushing for proposals to take vehicle lanes away from cars to use for bus-only lanes.  Yet many County Council members are so confident in their re-election that they have decided to skip debates with their opponents.

Meanwhile some incumbent state lawmakers, including those from District 15, are actually BRAGGING about how they have raised gas taxes to pay for transit projects, offering no tangible benefits for drivers from these new gas taxes while their opponents at least offer road proposals.

Incumbent council members also apparently will not respond to questions about the county's policies or plans when it comes to speed cameras.   And the county was apparently OK with allowing the head of their program to organize a secret speed camera meeting which critics (including the Maryland Drivers Alliance) were banned from observing.  Furthermore, the county refuses to answer questions about how much Montgomery county taxpayer money was spent lobbying against changes to the state's speed camera law which might have helped protected motorist rights.  I suppose this should not surprise us, since Montgomery County's "culture of secrecy" has been noted by others on other issues quite apart from motorist issues.

This opacity on speed cameras is particularly hypocritical in the case of Council President Craig Rice, who himself ran up over $1000 in unpaid traffic and parking tickets last year before being confronted about this by the press.

70,000 False Accusations in Baltimore, Who Will Be Held Accountable?
When Maryland Lawmakers voted for speed cameras, Motorists were given lots of assurances.  For example we were told contractors would not be paid based on the number of tickets.  Yet in the very first contract Montgomery County began paying to this very day, And even after claims of reform, most local governments STILL pay their contractors based on ticket volume, and they don't intend to stop this lucrative and deceptive arrangement any time soon.  Despite all the false promises, the bounty system is still alive and well.

We were told that cameras would be accurate.  Yet recent events in Baltimore have made clear that they are not.  Documents obtained from Baltimore City showed that the cameras were subject to "radar effects" that issued tickets based on false speed readings.  Baltimore originally tried to cover up these problems, then tried to minimize them.  Even after their vendor admitted there were accuracy problems, they still tried to keep secret an audit of their program, which when eventually leaked to the Baltimore Sun showed that 10% of citations may have been due to speed measurement errors... adding up to about 70,000 false accusations total.  Instead of calls for transparency, what we got were calls for "media restraints".

Is this isolated?  Maybe but how can we know?  In fact even the head of Montgomery County's program has BRAGGED about how their cameras are ONLY wrong about one time in ten.  And when the SHA's own audit showed that they dropped their own requirements for testing and certification of cameras and confirmed that they had skipped legally required independent calibrations for nine months, was there any justice for the hundreds of thousands who received the tickets from the SHA's uncalibrated cameras?  NO -- no refunds were ever given.  Frankly you could spend all day going over the examples of errors throughout the state which we have already documented.  It is clearly NOT an isolated phenomenon, not a temporary lapse or a fluke, it is a pattern of negligence across the entire state.

The fact is even today, the word "accuracy" does not appear in Maryland's speed camera law.  Despite claims of "reform", there is no requirement that the standards which cameras are supposedly tested to (when they are tested at all) are actually validated to ensure they ensure accuracy.  Lawmakers had the opportunity to do something about this, either passing STRICT standards for accuracy and verifiability, or banning the cameras, yet instead they chose to pass a distraction bill which was actually written by local governments which run speed cameras for the specific purpose of leaving existing practices in place, and changed nothing about the standards to which cameras are tested.

Who will be held accountable for all this?
Motorists need to understand that this year's election is more than about getting some specific change to benefit drivers.  It is more than about throwing out a few officials who have voted on some specific issue.  it is about showing the legislature that motorists are a force to be reckoned with, and that our interests must be respected.  These issues are part of a larger trend (though the votes on these issues are an indication of where state lawmakers stand).  If drivers do not make their voices heard, it is safe to assume that motorists will continue to be taken for granted, and that we will be taxed to pay off other more vocal, more organized special interests.

If you don't vote, you have no right to complain.
   - See how state delegates voted on the 2013 gas tax hike
   - See how state senators voted on the 2013 gas tax hike
  -  See how state delegates voted on speed camera repeal

The Maryland Transportation Authority: An Opaque, Unaccountable Institution

It may come as a surprise to many Marylanders that tolls are NOT set by elected state lawmakers, but rather by an un-elected body which is appointed by the administration.  And in the past 4 years, that organization appointed by the O'Malley Brown Administration has increased tolls on Maryland's existing facilities by 75%.

The MDTA says these increases were necessary.   Likewise we are expected to believe he high rate of tolls on the ICC and the lack of a commuter plan for users of that road is necessary.  And of course, the organization says their planned budget which increases capital expenses by 48% in the next 6 years is likewise necessary. But can what they say be trusted?

The fact is the MDTA has a poor record when it comes to transparency.  The organization frequently holds closed meetings, and has been the subject of multiple open meetings act complaints.  Several publications have complained about such violations in the past:
Star Dem: MdTA Violated Open Meetings Act
"Keep Your Promise MDTA" 
DailyKos: Minutes Unseen Until This Week

And the state's Open Meeting's Compliance Board has ruled in multiple instances that the MdTA did in fact violate the Open Meetings Act (one of two critical laws governing transparency in Maryland):
"We conclude that MDTA has violated the Act with respect to the closing of the May 30, 2007 meeting to discuss matters beyond the scope of the claimed exception."
"Holding a vote to close a session in a closed session leaves the interested public in the dark on the very information that the Act requires the public body to disclose, such as which members of the public body met and why they excluded the public. The procedures in the Act provide public bodies with an efficient mechanism for recording and producing this information in documents available to the public. We urge the Authority to comply with those procedures; it did not do so here."
"For the reasons stated above and in 8 OMCB Opinions 1, we conclude that the Authority did not comply with the Act’s requirement that a public body make even old minutes available for inspection to the public"
"the Act did apply to, and was violated by, the Capital Committee."
"We find that the Peer Review Group violated the Open Meetings Act in failing to prepare and retain minutes and other documentation related to its meetings"
"We do find that the response failed to satisfy §10-502.5(c)(3)."
"We find that the Authority violated the Open Meetings Act in that copies of written closing statements were not maintained in a manner in which the body could offer public access as required under the Act."

The MDTA has similarly shown it's contempt for the other half of Maryland's open government laws, the Maryland Public Information Act (the equivalent of the federal FOIA).  Earlier this year, we discovered that basic financial data on the MDTA's website was 2 years out of date.  We requested the data from the MDTA under the Maryland Public Information Act -- and got NO RESPONSE AT ALL FOR SEVENTY DAYS,  When we finally did get an answer, we were told they couldn't give us any data from the fiscal year that ended.  Exactly one day after the Sentinel wrote a critical story on the MDTA's inability to produce this basic financial data, the data magically appeared on their website.  Only after they provided this data to the press, and about three months after we originally asked for it, did they finally got around to informing us that this data had been posted (no actual documents were ever sent to us, just posted online),

It is difficult for us to avoid drawing the conclusion that the MDTA did have at least some of the data we had asked for at an earlier time, but that the MDTA has decided they are going to be selective about who they provide data to, and who gets to see that data last, in the hope of slowing unfavorable reporting about their organization.

Let's be perfectly clear: Both the Open Meetings Act and the Maryland Public Information Act are THE LAW.  The MDTA is an organization which handles a HUGE amount of money, and un-elected bodies like this one are granted HUGE amounts of power, even maintaining their own police force.  With that power comes the obligation to be transparent, and in our opinion the MDTA has demonstrated a reluctance to meet that obligation.

Since Motorists cannot vote for those who set toll rates, that 75% increase in tolls, the high rate of toll set on the ICC, and the general lack of transparency in that organization are the direct responsibility of the O'Malley-Brown administration who appointed the MDTA's current governing body.  In our opinion this organization needs to change both culturally and organizationally, to make them respect transparency and to respect the motorists whom they ultimately work for, and these changes need to start from the top.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Candidates Differ on Transportation Issues in Montgomery County

The County Executive and County Council President have spoken out against calls to lower rates on the ICC, while some incumbent  members of the General Assembly are touting their record of having raised gas taxes in order to fund mass transit projects.

Both County Executive Ike Leggett and Council President Craig Rice condemned calls by candidate for Governor Larry Hogan to lower ICC toll rates or create a commuter plan, according to a report on WTOP.

Larry Hogan said he favored reducing rates on the ICC across the board.  "By lowering ICC costs across the board, we'll save Montgomery and Prince George's residents money, reduce congestion and through increased usage, we'll boost state revenue," says Hogan campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky.

There have been previous calls by some democrats, including Doug Gansler and Council Member Phil Andrews for toll rates on the ICC to either be lowered or for a commuter discount to be enacted .  Both made bids for governor and Montgomery County executive, respectively, but lost the democratic primaries.

However Council President Craig Rice (D, council district 2) opposed the idea of a rate reduction.  "To take money out of the coffers, that's a decision that has to be heavily weighed. It's not as simple as offering a discount, where is that money coming from?" asks Rice. "I think when we look at the overall numbers of people using the ICC, the numbers are positive. I think the utilization is right where it needs to be, although others may disagree. Why offer a discount for a road that is meeting expectations?"

Candidate Anthony Brown would make no promise rate reductions.  "A Brown-Ulman administration would be committed to a comprehensive tax review in order to provide relief to working families, but we are mindful that tolls are set by an independent commission so politicians can't make unsustainable promises in an election year," says Brown campaign manager Justin Schall.

Toll rates for all facilities are set by the Maryland Transportation Authority, an un-elected body which is appointed by the governor.  Thus the decisions made by the MDTA about toll rates are ultimately the responsibility of the Governor.  The "independent commission" appointed by the O'Malley-Brown administration raised toll rates on previously existing facilities, with MDTA toll revenues from existing facilities increasing by 75% in only four years.  In fact the MDTA suggested in financial projection documents that ICC toll rates could actually go up in coming years, since rates would be set to limit traffic on that road.   "the timing of any toll increases on the ICC and I-95 ETL projects will depend primarily on the need to manage congestion on those facilities, and thus toll rates on those facilities could be adjusted during the six year period, should conditions warrant" wrote the MdTA., making clear that the MdTA specifically does not consider relieving traffic from other roadways to be part of the purpose of the ICC project.  

The ICC currently sees about 45,000 cars per day, a tiny fraction of the about 200,000 per day which travel many portions of the Beltway.

According to WTOP Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Councilmembers Craig Rice, Hans Reimer "were among those to urge voters that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is the only candidate who'll ensure the Purple Line is built.  The Purple Line is a light-rail line that will connect Bethesda, Silver Spring, Greenbelt, College Park and New Carrollton. It will link up Metro's Red, Green and Orange Lines in an east-west route. Construction could begin in 2015; service could begin in 2020."

Rice's expression of support for the $2.4 billion transit project is despite the fact that the purple line would be of little use to members of Craig Rice's district, since no portion of it's planned route is within council district 2.  The rail line has been very popular with some of the at-large members of the council such as Hans Reimer.  Currently three of the four at-large council members (who in theory represent the entire county) are from Takoma Park, the fourth from nearby Garrett Park.  No at-large members are from any portion of Upcounty or Mid-County.

Yet Montgomery County Suffers From Entitled Incumbent Syndrome.  Incumbent council members have been ducking debates with their opponents.  The Gazette recently reported that not one incumbent at-large member of the council showed up at a debate in Olney sponsored by the local civics association, leaving challengers to debate each other.  Republican challenger Robert Dyer took the incumbents to task on skipping this Debate: 

"I can say there are four people who are up here who are seeking your vote tonight, as opposed to the incumbents who either don't want your vote or assume they already have it in the bag.  They really embarass themselves by being an empty chair tonight, but then again it's a perfect representation of what their leadership has been for the last 4, 8, or 12 years.  If I were them or maybe if you were them you might be running away too since we know that BRT [bus rapid transit] will demolish 150 businesses and homes between here and Wheaton, they haven't attracted a large corporation to the county in over a decade, and they have the worst congestion in the nation in traffic"
Larry Hogan stated in an earlier press release that the thought roads should be the priority for transportation spending.  "O’Malley and Brown picked the lock on the Transportation Trust Fund and siphoned off nearly $1 billion in our gas taxes to balance their bloated budget.  Then they passed massive gas and diesel tax hikes only to invest the majority of the money in mass transit projects instead of fixing our crumbling and congested roads and bridges."..."“Under a Hogan administration, the Transportation Trust Fund will be used as it was intended: for roads and highways."

Montgomery State Lawmakers Tout Gas Tax Hike, Offer Bus Routes Not Road Improvements to Commuters
Meanwhile, incumbents in Montgomery County Legislative District 15 are promoting their record of having raised taxes on motorists, without promising new or improved roads and instead proposing new bus routes as the solution for commuters.

The incumbent slate of State Senator Brian Feldman for state senator, and State Delegates Kathleen Dumaise, David Fraser-Hidalgo, and Arun Miller for state delegates recently sent out a mailer promoting their record transportation (all democrats).  The Mailer stated that the District 15 Team "Supported the Landmark Transportaion Infrastructure Act which increased State transportation funding", without stating that this increase in revenue was coming from an over 80% increase in the state gas tax which is currently being phased in.  The mailer goes on to state that the team "Advocated for priority funding foor the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) to increase mass transit option from Shady Grove to Clarksburg/Upcounty to help Upcounty gridlock".  The CCT would be a new "rapid" bus transit route which would wind from Germantown to Kentlands to Shady Grove.

Despite having voted for the massive gas tax hike, the District 15 slate's mailer did not mention any proposals for new roads, or widening any existing roads in District 15.  District 15 is the geographically largest, and least urban, legislative district in Montgomery County, including areas such as Poolsville and Barnesville and other up-county regions where transit is not and cannot be a workable solution for many commuters.

The district 15 incumbents are running against challengers Robin Ficker for senate, and Flynn Ficker, Ed Edmunston, and Christine Thron for Delegates.  Some challengers have proposed substantial new road improvements, including the Fickers who stated they would seek to widen I-270.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Data Shows Rockville Red Light Camera Tickets Doubled

Since 2011, Rockville has seen the number of red light camera tickets they have issued double, despite the fact that they have no more cameras in place than before.  The increase is primarily due to the city's policy of ticketing for slow moving right turns, or vehicles which did come to a stop but slightly ahead of the white line.

In 2010 and 2011, prior to the new policy, the City of Rockville issued 9436 and 8638 red light camera citations respectively.  In 2012 this number had risen to 17,794.  By 2013 this had further increased to 22,649.

As an example, data from the Rockville City website shows that a camera located on West Bound Gude Drive at Research Boulevard issued 1043 citations in the full year of 2011.  In 2013, the camera at this same location issued 4599 citations, four times as many.  A camera at West Bound Gude at Gaither rd issued 756 tickets in 2011, but issued 5428 tickets in 2013.  Furthermore, the overall increase in citations from 2011 to 2013 was despite the fact that there were fewer cameras in operation for the first 6 months of 2013, before the new model cameras went online in all ten locations.

City officials claimed to the press in 2013 that red light camera citations had declined from a "spike' which occurred in 2012 shortly after the new cameras and the new ticket standards were put in place.  However in fact the city still issued 2.6 times as many citations in 2013 compared to 2011, indicating that citations rates were still vastly higher than before the new policy was introduced.

In addition to ticketing for slow moving right turns, Rockville also issues tickets to vehicles who enter the intersection as little as 0.1 second after the light changes from amber to red.  Earlier this year WTOP reported on one case where a motorist did come to a full stop, ahead of the white line, on a day when due to piled up snow the motorist could not safely see into the intersection from behind the while line to make a turn.  City officials defended their right to ticket for the following violation, where the motorist pulled ahead of the white line to stop in order to see around piled up snow before making a turn:

Rockville began their stricter policy on enforcing right turns without seeking any new authority from the legislature or adding any new signage to the intersection.  The public only became aware of the change after the press began asking about the surge in new tickets.

Montgomery County also switched to the same model of cameras around the same time that Rockville did, and also saw red light camera ticket increase, though not by nearly as much as Rockville.  Montgomery County officials initially lied in response to complaints about unexplained flashes from red light cameras when there was no apparent violation by stating these were "warning flashes".  There is no standard traffic signal which issues "warning flashes" at traffic lights, and in fact the new model of cameras are specifically configured to take photos of any vehicle approaching at a certain speed in order to look for technical violations.  However since stating that the cameras were recording huge numbers of vehicles committing no violation at all would not have fit the official narrative that 'if you don't want your picture taken don't run red lights', County police have yet to acknowledge this lie.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Maryland Toll Revenues Surge

Toll Road Usage vs Revenues Collected
Toll revenues have increased close to 75% in the past 4 years, according to data released by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The Maryland Transportation Authority reported $276.6 million in toll revenues from in fiscal year 2009 from seven facilities and $308.5million in FY2010.  In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013 after toll increases were in place, revenue from the same facilities had increased to $411.5.  Budget forecasts predicted these facilities would produce $540.3million in FY2014, a 75% increase since 2010.

MDTA estimates that recent toll increases have reduced the number of transaction (ie toll road use) by 6.2%.  The higher rates more than made up for the lost revenues.
MDTA toll revenues by facility, 2014-2020 are projections
The MDTA's 6 year plan assume that toll rates at most facilities will remain the same through 2020. However it qualified that by stating "the timing of any toll increases on the ICC and I-95 ETL projects will depend primarily on the need to manage congestion on those facilities, and thus toll rates on those facilities could be adjusted during the six year period, should conditions warrant."

Revenue from the ICC was estimated to be $49.76million in FY14 and to increase to $84.64million by FY2020.

Despite these revenue increases, the MDTA figures assert they will only be breaking even.  Operating expenses are projected to increase 48%, from $368million in 2014 to $505million in 2020, even as expensive capital projects like the ICC come to a close.  The MDTA offered in explanation that "Growth in the operating budget includes assumptions about the opening of new toll facilities (the last segment of the Inter County Connector and the opening of the I-95 express Toll Lanes), increased maintenance costs for existing facilities, and increases in debt service as a result of recent bond issuances."

MDTA Slow To Provide Data to Public
In July, we asked the MDTA for their total revenues and revenues by facility for the fiscal years ending in June 2013 and June 2014.  This month, more than 70 days after we made that request, the MDTA finally responded that they had updated the 2013 data online, but that the information on revenues for the 2014 fiscal year which ended three months earlier would not be available until the end of October.

We asked MDTA to explain why actual revenues could not be reported more than a full quarter after the end of the fiscal year, and received no reply by the time of this report.

MDTA Couldn't Provide Data on Civil Penalties
We also asked the MDTA how much revenue was being collected from a newly imposed civil penalties on unpaid tolls (which in addition to deliberate toll running can include charges resulting from non-functioning EZ-Passes or incorrect credit card information in EZPass accounts).  The MDTA also reported that they could not yet provide that revenue total from the fiscal year which ended three months earlier.

Prior to the introduction of the higher civil penalties, the MDTA was instead imposing administrative fees, and had collected approximately $9.1million.

When introduced, the civil penalties were claimed to have been intended to combat "toll cheats" and "scofflaws".   However some motorists have begun filing complaints with websites such as regarding the fees which they say were unjustified or actually due to errors on the part of MDTA.

Steph of Frederick, MD wrote on Aug. 26, 2014:
"I received a toll charge for $1.55 in July of 2014. The license plate info and the photo are not of any of my vehicles. Of course everyone said just pay it because it will be easier than dealing with the MTA. I called and spoke with "*****" who informed me to not pay it and it would be reviewed. I was to receive another notice in the mail. Well today I did and it is a bill for $51.55! I can contest this and go to court?? Really. I teach Family and Consumer Science. It is against every grain of my being to pay for a fine of which I am not responsible for...I have never even been to this toll area. The photo isn't of any vehicle I own. I wonder how many people are paying fines which they are not guilty of? How much money is being made? They haven't heard the last of me."
Lisa of Silver Spring wrote on June 9, 2014:
"Now I am being billed $52.15. Since their website could not find the toll violation, I now owe $52.15. This is ridiculous! I thought that since they could locate the transaction, they had found my account with VA and had charged my EZ Pass account for the $2.15. I certainly would have paid this, if the website would have allowed me to."
Atanaska of Laurel, MD wrote on March 5, 2014
"I never received the first notice of tolls due. By the time the second notice was mailed, E-Z Pass had already assessed $700 in civil penalties! That's for $65 in tolls on the Inter County Connector in Maryland. If they had assessed a reasonable late fee, I would have considered paying it just to avoid having to deal with EZ Pass. But $700 for $65 in tolls is not reasonable.
I called E-Z Pass and was told that my only option was to dispute the charges, which is what I did. Three weeks later, I still had not received a notice of court hearing in the mail and as you know failure to show up is considered to be "admission of fault". So after calling E-Z Pass to find out when the court hearing will be scheduled and being told that they don't have this information (but that the hearing will be "sometime in the Spring" - very helpful!). I finally decided to go in person and talk to someone at their Stop In Center."  .... 
"What really upset me is that she mentioned that I may have to go to three different courts on three different dates because the Inter County Connector runs through three different jurisdictions in Maryland. So depending on where the violations occurred, I may have to go to different district courts to dispute the $700 in additional fees. In other words, either cough up $700 or take three days off work to deal with a problem created by the fact that the E-Z Pass notification system doesn't work (I'm not the only person to not receive the first notification) and that they didn't have a procedure in place until 2/18/14 to deal with people not getting the first notice."...
MDTA stated to us last year that bills for ICC "Video Tolls" are expected to be mailed within 28 calendar days for in-state drivers.... but that bills could take from 28-80 days for out of state plates.  One Maryland Drivers Alliance member did not receive a bill within 42 days of using the ICC.  Thus video toll users (or users with an EZPass which was not read) could have a large window of time in which a bill might come, and they might not realize the first notice of toll due did not arrive.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Will Montgomery County Seek To Reinstate "Squealer Provision"?

We previously reported that the court has ruled it is an explicitly permitted defense under Maryland law if the recipient of a speed camera ticket ticket is not the driver, and moreover that this does not require the person to identify and incriminate the person who was driving.  The language on citations implies to ticket recipients that the only option is to "transfer liability" which applies "If you, as the registered owner, were not operating the vehicle at the time of this infraction and you choose to identify the person who was".  The circuit court ruled that a change made to the law in 2009 deleted the requirement to identify the driver, and district court judges in Montgomery County have upheld this twice since then.

However Montgomery County has refused to change the language which appears on their citations.  Furthermore, the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program has indicated that the believe that the specifically authorized affirmative defense is a "loophole" created by an ill informed legislature, and raised the possibility that Montgomery County could seek to negate the court decision in the future by restoring to state law the requirement to incriminate another person in order to exonerate yourself.

The reply was in response to a letter from a member of the National Motorists Association (a national motorist rights organization) to Captain Tom Didone (the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program), who was confronting the county about the issue of language about "transfer of liability" on a sample affidavit on their website, and discussed the paragraph which was deleted from the law in 2009.  Captain Didone replied in an email dated August 26th, regarding his feelings that the defense, which the Circuit Court had already ruled on, was not the intent of state law:
"I believe that there is no harm in mentioning that people can always choose to identify the driver if they want to.  This requirement was initially included into the law because the law requires rear photography only so that the driver’s identity could not be told.  The fundamental concept that was understood was that the owner was responsible for his or her vehicle unless otherwise notified.

The Legislature removed the paragraph and created the loophole in the law in 2009 (when I was not assigned her in Traffic and not able to provide testimony).  It is a loophole that you are working to promote and advertize and not the intent of the law.

Time will tell if the Legislature will close the loophole once they receive the appropriate information..

Captain Didone has testified before legislative committees in opposition to positions held by the Maryland Drivers Alliance, at the expense of Montgomery County taxpayers, in each of the past three years.

Captain Didone continued his explanation in a follow-up email dated  August 27, 2014(after members of the county council had been copied) to indicate his view that the 2009 change to the law was somehow invalid because he was not personally involved in its writing.
"When the General Assembly revised the law in 2009, they removed the paragraph that required the owner to identify the driver, if they wished to transfer the liability.  This provision was a mandate in the law that passed the 2006 General Assembly when Montgomery County was authorized to operate the first speed cameras in the State. This is why I used the phrase “Loophole” because by removing the paragraph, an issue was created that was not previously experienced. Last year, when I worked on the Speed Camera Reform legislation workgroup, I was informed by staff that legislators voted to remove the “Squealer provision” as it was referred to when they revised the law in 2009.  It is my personal opinion that the legislators took this action without being fully informed of the consequences because they did not have the same workgroups as they did last year.  The “loophole” issue was not in the forefront of our minds so the matter was not raised in last year’s work group. The County has not decided if we are going to take this matter forward with the General Assembly.  The provision has not had a significant impact on our ability to change behavior and most owners are accepting responsibility for their vehicles.  If this changes, I hope that the County would work to address the issue."
The County Executive and members of the County Council had been copied on these emails, but did not respond.

These emails were forwarded to the Maryland Drivers Allaince, and the chairman of The Maryland Drivers Alliance replied to Didone's email by asking him about the "work group" he participated in.  In that reply we asked for the agendas, minutes and participants of the "speed camera reform work group" under the Open Meetings Act.  Didone did not respond.  An amendment to Maryland's speed camera law was passed in 2014 based primarily on input from local governments, and was drafted by an apparently "secret" legislative workgroup.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance has so far been unable to find any public notices for the meetings of the "workgroup" which wrote it or a list of participants.

Despite Didone's opinion on the Court's decision and the intent of slate law, the fact that legislators referred to the deleted requirement as a "Squealer Provision" seems to indicate that lawmakers knew precisely what the effect of the previous requirement was, and that deleting it removed the requirement to incriminate another person,  In other words it seems to support that the legislative intent was to remove the obligation to name the driver.

County Executive Ike Leggett
Elected Officials are the ones who set county policy
Since Didone's response indicated that the county MIGHT seek to restore the "Squealer Provision" in the future, we asked the County Executive and County council their position by email on whether they would seek to restore the requirement.  We additionally asked the county council and county executive their position on the county holding secret meetings, such as the Speed Camera Symposium which Captain Tom Didone banned critics of speed cameras from observing last year, and asked whether they .  Neither the County Executive nor any member of the County Council responded to our questions.

The Chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance identified himself as a resident of Council President Craig Rice's district, and specifically asked Council President Craig Rice:
- Will Montgomery County ask the state legislature restore the "Squealer Provision" to Maryland's law as Didone has suggested? 
Montgomery County Council President Craig Rice
Elected Officials are the ones who set county policy
- Do you believe that Montgomery County Speed Camera Citations and the Montgomery County Safe Speed website should be modified to correctly state that it is a defense under Maryland law if you were not driving and that there is no requirement to identify the driver?
- Do you believe it is acceptable for the Safe Speed program to organize secret meetings like last year's "Speed camera symposium," which exclude th public and the press at the absolute discretion of county employees, or to be involved in secret legislative meetings like this "speed camera work group" ?
- Are you willing to support legislation requiring the county to disclose all taxpayer funded lobbying conducted by county employees?

Craig Rice has not responded to any of our questions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Camera News: Cameras Slammed in New Jersey, Ohio

The new Jersey Senate Transportation Committee has approved a measure to block the enforcement of out of state photo tickets.  According to TheNewspaper.Com:
The panel on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure modeled after a South Dakota law that would immunize the state's residents from photo enforcement tickets issued by other jurisdictions.
The measure, championed by state Assemblyman Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr (R-Monmouth), forbids the state Motor Vehicle Commission from cooperating with NLETS, the interstate motor vehicle information network that red light camera and speed camera companies use to look up the license plate and registration information on out-of-state drivers. Without this information, the ticket cannot be mailed.
The ban would presumably prevent Maryland speed and red light camera citations from being enforced for New Jersey drivers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gubernatorial Candidate Urges Motorists to Vote For Question One

This November, in addition to voting for candidates for the state legislate and for governor, voters will have the opportunity to vote on a ballot question to create an amendment to the state constitution which would limit the legislature's ability to divert money from the Transportation Trust Fund.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Montgomery County Citations, Calibration Log Defects Went Unnoticed For Months

The Maryland Drivers Alliance has learned that speed camera citations issued by Montgomery County as well as some of the "daily setup logs" associated with some cameras contained systematic errors which went unnoticed and uncorrected for months and possibly years.

Citations Provided Incorrect Address to Exercise Legal Right

The citation defect appears to affect all speed camera citations issued during the later part of 2012, all of 2013, and the first half of 2014.  Under Maryland law, a defendant contesting a citation is permitted to request the presence of the speed monitoring system citation operator in court by sending a letter making the request at least 20 days prior to the hearing.  However the backs of Montgomery County citation provide an incorrect address to which such requests are to be sent.  In fact the instructions read: "Send this correspondence in an envelope marked “Operator Request” to: Montgomery County Customer Service at 1-866-579-5742"
Specifically telling the defendant to mail the "Operator Request" in an address addressed to a phone number.

Any letter addressed as shown would not be delivered by the Post office.

This defect apparently went unnoticed by Montgomery County Safe Speed during a period of many months.  The citation template containing the erroneous information was approved by the District Court in 2012, and hundreds of thousands of citations were issued during that time without any employee of the Safe Speed program requesting that it be changed.

In 2014, Richard Harrison, the program manager and "local designee" for the Safe Speed Program, confirmed the error and stated to the Maryland Drivers Alliance in July of 2014 that the address would be corrected.  Harrison, who rejected the commonly used term "ombudsman" to describe his duties, asserted without proof that no individuals were denied their right to face the operator due to this issue.   In reality there is no way of knowing whether some motorists did not exercise their right to request the Operator's testimony because incorrect instructions were provided.

Long Path To Confronting an Accuser
The issues were uncovered by a member of the Alliance who disputed a citation and who was ultimately found not guilty by the circuit court.  The defendant in this case recognized the error, but nevertheless mailed a request to the address shown on the citation, precisely as shown.  Not surprisingly the letter was returned by the postal service "address unknown".

However the defendant in this case was an expert on speed camera law and was unusually familiar with the County's program, he was able to determine the correct address to which the "Operator Request" needed to be sent, and did send such a request.  However upon appearing in District Court and requesting to cross examine the operator, who did happen to be present in the room, and presenting the court with a copy of the request and a certified mail receipt, the district court judge refused to permit "you don't need to testify" the judge told the Operator.

The right to confront an individual providing testimony against a defendant has been upheld by the US Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, this was not respected by the District Court in this case, and the defendant was unable to confront the operator, and thus unable to present questions to her about the "daily setup logs" she had signed as the defendant has intended.  In this case the defendant appealed the citation to Circuit Court.  The fact that this entailed paying a non-refundable fee which was twice the cost of the original fine, plus hundreds of dollars in other expenses, is the main reason only a handful of speed camera cases have ever been appealed above District Court.

Prior to the circuit court hearing, the defendant repeated sending the request in the same way, one copy to the "address" shown on the citation, and one to the correct address.  Once again the letter sent to the "address" on the citation was returned address unknown.

Camera Logs Contained Systematic Defect
The circuit court did permit the defendant to cross examine the operator, who appeared completely surprised by the defects on the logs.  The defendant (representing himself 'pro se' questioned the operator (Stephanie Little) about the "daily setup" log which she had signed, which contained an apparent defect:
Daily Setup Log Containing Defect: Click to Enlarge

"Q: Would You say the cameras are as accurate as these logs?"
A: Yes
A That is why we perform the test of the electric tuning 
fork to verify that the system is working correctly.   
 Q Excellent.  That's a -- so what is step five on the log?  A That's just saying how to operate the system software -- that just    
 Q Yeah, what does it --  
  MR. STEVENSON:  Can she finish her answer?   
  THE COURT:  Had you finished your answer?   
  MS. LITTLE:  Yes.  No.  I'm not finished yet.  And how we -- and the using level that it's set to to operate the CIT2 software that also assists in operating the fixed camera unit.   
  THE COURT:  Okay.   
  BY MR. ELY  
 Q Okay, and did you certify that item according to the log?   
 A Yes.   
 Q Is there an SL next to that item on the log?   
 A Well, on number five?   
 Q Next to number five, yes.   
 A No, but there's an SL everywhere else. 
 Q Okay.  Yes, that is interesting.  What -- could you please read the description of the task for number seven?   
 A There's nothing there on number seven.   
 Q Oh, and did you complete that task --  
 A Yes.   
 Q -- according to the log?   
 A I'm not responsible for printing out the deployment -- when I see these deployment logs on the computer, we have a button there that says that verify and check that everything was checked.  How it's printed out I have nothing to do with that, but before I save this log it usually tells me that it's missing my initial or anything else."

It is unclear how many camera logs contained these defects, or for what period of time they were issued.  However  the defendant in this case had requested all daily setup logs for the camera locate 19600 Blk of Georgia Avenue from May 15, 2013 – May 21, 2013, and all logs provided contained the same error.  To the best of our knowledge, Montgomery County has not issued any refunds for citations issued with these daily setup log errors.  Montgomery County spent taxpayer money going to court to uphold the principal that paying a citation is an admission of speeding, and therefore that a local government cannot be sued to force the refund citations for any reason whatsoever.

The defect demonstrates that printed copies of "electronic logs" may in fact not authentically reproduce what the operators "sign: by pressing a button.  Normally "hearsay" evidence is permitted in court, however state lawmakers exempted speed cameras records from hearsay evidence, and define them to be evidence of the violation without the testimony of the "operators" who "signed" them by merely pressing a button (the "signatures" on the logs are also digitally imprinted).  However only the the state is exempted from "hearsay" evidence rules... defendants are not permitted hearsay in their defense.

In at least one case a circuit court judge has ruled in the past that digital signatures on speed camera citations did not have legal standing.  The possibility that electronically reproduced documents may not accurately reflect what was actually "signed" is one argument why electronic signatures should not be sufficient to authenticate a document.

Upon questioning of the operator in this circuit court case, the Operator also was did not correctly recall the location of signs in the vicinity.  The operator claimed to be very familiar with the area and incorrectly stated that the speed limit south of the camera was marked as 30mph for a full mile, when in fact photographs presented by the defendant showed that the camera was placed near a speed transition zone, about 160 yards from the point where the speed limit dropped from 40mph to 30mph.
The circuit court did not rule on these issues in this case, and instead found the defendant in this case not guilty on the basis that state law makes it a defense if you are not the driver.  The prosecution had agreed that the defendant in this case was not the driver, and the County attorney furthermore made a statements which implied that the prosecution was aware the defendant was not the driver when they decided to spent thousands of taxpayer dollars prosecuting the case of a $40 ticket in Circuit Court.

Montgomery's History of Denying Legal Rights, Lack of Transparency

Monday, September 15, 2014

Montgomery County Has No Ombudsman, Still Pays Per Ticket

Earlier this year state lawmakers passed a so-called reform measure which proponents claimed would "end the bounty system" (paying contractors based on the number of tickets) and address concerns about errors by creating an "ombudsman" for each local speed camera program.  However correspondence with a representative of Montgomery County reveals that neither thing has actually happened.

Insurance Company AAA Mid Atlantic, an organization with a long history of supporting speed cameras, praised and took credit for the reform bill.  In 2010 AAA's Lon Anderson was quoted by the Washington Post as taking credit for the legislation which authorized statewide speed cameras in Maryland.  In a similar  fashion, AAA took credit for the reform legislation.  AAA claimed that the legislation, which went into effect June 1, was "Ending the Bounty System".  AAA's press release promoting Maryland Speed Cameras also stated "The law also requires each jurisdiction in the state with such a program to appoint an ombudsman to resolve and void erroneous citations before the motorist goes to court to prove his or her innocence and to respond to citizens’ complaints, questions, and concerns about the program".

The term 'Ombudsman' is often defined as "a commissioner who acts as independent referee between individual citizens and their government or its administration" and many people construe the term to mean an individual who has a degree of independence from a program and who is capable of being objective.  The term has been widely used with respect to this reform legislation in news reports, press releases, and legislative testimony by Montgomery County, and in previous correspondence from the county.  During legislative hearings Captai Tom Didone, the Head of Montgomery County's traffic enforcement division, had introduced Mr Richard Harrison as the county's "ombudsman" to the state legislature, using that term.  

However when asked about his duties, Richard Harrison three times rejected the use of the term "ombudsman" to describe his role.  "OMBUDSMAN -- is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014."  stated Harrison in a letter dated July 2014.  In response to a second letter, Harrison wrote again in a letter dated September 2, 2014. "Ombusman is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014.  We use the term local designee."

In response to the question "Do you believe it is the Role of Montgomery County's "Ombudsman" to be an independent advocate for the public when addressing complaints regarding the Safe Speed Program that are of a systematic nature, or is your role to defend the county's position even if that position conflicts with the people's legal rights?"

Harrison responded "As I have stated above I am the Local Designee, not an ombudsman."  ... "It is my role, as the county's local designee and as a county employee, to objectively carry out these duties and responsibilities imposed on the Local Designee by law."

Harrison then vigorously defended the county's position regarding certain language which appears on citations.  Harrison specifically refused to request a change to the "Transfer of Liability" instructions on citations, which we have argues incorrectly indicates that it is a requirement under the law to identify the driver.  "No, I am not going to make any request of the District Court."  (The Maryland Drivers Alliance has previously reported that the circuit court has ruled it is a defense under Maryland law if the person named in the citation was not driving, and it is our opinion that language on citations and the Montgomery County website misleads motorists into believing they are required to identity the driver to exercise the defense, which the circuit court ruled is not the case.  A dispute on this matter is ongoing. )

More of a "YesMan" than an "Ombudsman"
In the same letter, Harrison responded to the question about "Who is the current Program Manager for the Montgomery County Safe Speed Program?" that he is the Safe Speed program manager, and he confirmed that Captain Tom Didone is his immediate supervisor.

The September 2 letter was in response to questions the Maryland Drivers Alliance had asked regarding statements made by Captain Tom Didone.  Therefore in Montgomery County it is up to the Program Manager of the program to  "objectively" investigate such a complaint about the program which he himself manages, as well as any questions about the actions or statements of his immediate supervisor.

In any event, by Harrison's own statement, Montgomery County most certainly has no "ombudsman".

Semantic Games, Not Real Change
Harrison also responded to a question about Montgomery County's current "Bounty System" contract.  Harrison confirmed that Montgomery county still pays their contractor on a per ticket basis.  Harrison stated that the county has until June 2017 to comply with the change.  Harrison stated that the Procurement and County Attorney's office was looking at options for a new contract arrangement, including "tiered pricing".

"Tiered Pricing" arrangement would essentially pay the vendor for *batches* of tickets, or use some other formula based on ticket volume to compute the fee, rather than paying a flat fee.  Thus it would still be based on ticket volume, and is in fact the very definition of being "contingent on the number of citations issued or paid".  Thus the goal of making is to contractors are not incentive to issue more tickets is not satisfied, rather it is legitimized.  Only the words "per-ticket" would be changed, not the fact that they would be paying their contractor based on ticket volume.

In 2011, Montgomery County added an amendment to their speed camera contract which would immediately switch the payment structure from $16.25 per ticket to a flat fee per camera if the legislature passed legislation closing the loophole permitting per-ticket payments.  However Montgomery County has apparently elected not to exercise this provision and ACTUALLY "end the bounty system" immediately and completely, even though they have the contractual means to do so at any time.

We previously reported how another speed camera contractor, Brekford, had cheered about how the changes to the law would not affect them, because they had locked in new long term contract extensions which would allow them to continue "bounty system" contracts for years to come.  So far we have not found any local governments which paid their contractor based on ticket volume at the time the "reform" legislation was passed which have actually switched to a flat fee.

New Rules = New Loopholes, Still No Enforcement
Before the reform legislation, there was an existing provision of the law which stated "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."   It was the legislative intent, as stated in the fiscal policy notes that payments to contractors not be made based on the number of tickets issued however Montgomery County found that they could circumvent the previous wording of the law by not using the term "operate" to describe what the contractor does and rendering the provision ineffective.  "Bounty System" contracts based on a loophole which Montgomery County invented soon became the norm in much of the state.

The legislation claiming to "end the bounty system" reworded the language from stating "operates" to "administers or processes citations", but then changed the language from "contingent on the number of citations" to "contingent ON A PER TICKET BASIS".  It therefore does NOT end all payments based on the number of tickets, but rather legitimizes payments based on ticket volume so long as it is not a fixed dollar amount for one single ticket.

 Since existing contracts were grandfathered in until mid 2017, the promises being made about "ending the bounty system" do not need to be kept until long after, and thus the manner in which they will create new loopholes to continue paying based on ticket column-- need not be made public until years later.   And since the state's speed camera law contains no outside oversight and no enforcement mechanism for its requirements, local governments are free to be as creative as they wish in their efforts to do so without having to be concerned that such loopholes will be deemed illegal.  Most press releases about the "end of the bounty system" (including those by AAA) have cleverly redefined the term "bounty system" (which isn't actually a term any contract uses) to only say it ends an explicit single payment for a single ticket, and not include all other types of arrangements based on ticket volume.

Closed Process, Insincere Lawmakers, Whitewashed Problems
The "reform" legislation was drafted by a secret legislative workgroup, which the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program Captain Tom Didone says he was a member of.  Didone has not responded to requests for information about this workgroup's membership, meeting agendas, or minutes.  (Some organizations have and reporters have noted that it is becoming more common for the legislature to create temporary workgroups to discuss controversial legislation and exempt those meeting from Maryland's "sunshine laws").  By the time the legislation was dumped on the house committee floor, the committee had not intention of hearing from the public. Sponsors told motorists who came to testify that they already knew all their was to know about speed cameras, and Vice Chair James Malone stated that "today is "me too' day" (using those words) and that those attending should "just say 'Me Too.'".

The Maryland Drivers Alliance did not say "me too", but instead stated that the legislation was filled with loopholes and contained only cosmetic changed which would not address the problem.  Montgomery County is apparently determined to prove us correct.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Happens When You Take a DC Police Officer's Picture?

When DC Police routinely photograph and video the public, and motorists, with cameras mounted all across the city, the public is told that "There is no expectation of privacy in public places."  So how do they react when someone tries to film police?  A Washington Post reporter just found out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Insurance Company AAA Actively Promotes Speed Cameras

You've seen them in the news and on TV talking about speed cameras in Maryland and DC, and may have believed that AAA has been hard at work defending motorist's rights on this issue.

If so we are sorry to have to break it to you, but the truth is that AAA is an insurance company which supports and lobbies in favor of speed cameras.  

Reality Check
AAA testified IN FAVOR of statewide speed cameras in Maryland in 2009.
"On behalf of our approximately 900,000 Maryland members, AAA Mid-Atlantic supports SB 277, which would expand the authority to use speed monitoring systems statewide and would add the authority to use them in highway work zones." wrote AAA Mid Atlantic in their 2009 testimony.

AAA also opposed the repeal of speed cameras in 2013, side a public hearing next to representatives of one of the most troubled local speed camera programs in the state(Forest Heights), and in opposition to motorists who came to support repeal, to support the continuation of Maryland's speed camera law.

SEE THE VIDEO ON GENERAL ASSEMBLY WEBSITE OF 2013 SPEED CAMERA REPEAL BILL TESTIMONY where AAA sided against motorists and against the speed camera repeal bill.  AAA's team of three lobbyists start their testimony in opposition to repeal at time index 2:43:00.
AAA's John Townsend and Regina Alvarez Testifying AGAINST the Repeal of Speed Cameras

Lon Anderson: AAA Mid Atlantic Director of Public and Government Relations
In fact AAA didn't just jump on the speed camera bandwagon after the fact, they were helping to pull the wagon.  All the way back in 2002, AAA Mid Atlantic's Lon Anderson bemoaned that speed cameras had not been authorized by the legislature at that time, and stated to the Gazette that AAA had testified in favor of those bills.  "If this legislation had been enacted ... we could have had a model program in the nationstated Anderson.  If Lon Anderson and AAA had their way, Maryland wouldn't have gotten its first speed cameras in 2007... we'd have gotten them five years sooner.

The vote on statewide speed cameras in 2009 was VERY CLOSE in the state senate, down to just a few votes.  If AAA had come out strongly against this, rather than providing political cover with their support, we would likely not have statewide speed cameras in Maryland today.

In fact Lon Anderson took credit for Maryland's Statewide Speed cameras being enacted.  When speaking with Washington Post's Dr Gridlock in 2010 Lon Anderson said : "I worked hard to get the speed camera law passed in Maryland, and the red light camera laws reinstated in Virginia."

We know some of you may be surprised to hear this.  But then how would AAA representatives be able to go on TV to complain about how badly Maryland's speed cameras have been administered if they hadn't worked to put them there in the first place?

AAA continues to claim that they do not oppose speed cameras.  AAA's John Townsend was recently quoted by WTOP stating "We aren't against speed cameras. We have worked with Montgomery County and Prince George's County to make sure they have a camera program that is valid, earnest and based on integrity and fairness" so there is no basis for assuming their support for speed cameras has changed, and they have been giving PRAISE to the press about the Maryland speed camera programs which they have supported legislatively.

Because Lon Anderson told the Post in 2010bthat they had lobbied for speed camera in Maryland and red light cameras, we wondered whether they would support speed cameras in Virginia as well.  AAA told one motorists that because there is not currently legislation pending in Virginia at this time, they therefore have not taken a position.  However it is inevitable that such legislation will be considered in Virginia sooner or later, and AAA's reply seems to leave open that they could support speed cameras when (not if) the matter is brought up in that state.  We asked Lon Anderson by email  on September 9th "Will AAA Pledge NOT to support speed cameras in Virginia, should they every come before the legislature?".  As of September 13th we had still received no response from Lon Anderson regarding that pledge.

In 2013 AAA also helped organize a secret speed camera meeting, which members of the public and the press were barred from observing.  AAA assisted in planning the closed event, in coordination with the heads of Maryland's biggest county speed camera programs, which included training representatives from local speed camera programs in how to conduct public relations, how to conduct media campaigns, and also discussing upcoming legislation.

And now in 2014, AAA has sold out on the cheap on speed camera reform.  We've talked about why this bill is a fraud at length already, and we hate to beat a dead horse.   Yet AAA failed to demand stronger reforms.  AAA took the position that what was needed was merely to "change the public perception" of speed cameras when what was need was to change the REALITY of speed camera programs.  They lent their credibility to a reform package which was designed to be ineffective and loaded with loopholes, and which was written by local speed camera programs for the purpose of changing nothing while letting lawmakers seeking re-election claim to have voted for reform.  AAA has praised a bill which did not contain audits of speed camera programs and provided no outside oversight of speed camera program.  They cheered for "reform" which did nothing to relieve systematic due process violations taking place at speed camera court hearings and did nothing to restore the constitutional right to face an accuser.  And they approved of a bill which wrote into law that it is OK for 5% of speed camera citations to be issued in error.  

Before this bill was passed public officials in the wake of Baltimore's speed camera error scandal were saying they should have a "zero error" program.  How the hell does it make things better to go from that to writing into state law that having up to 1 in 20 citations issued in error is OK?  Fact is the new law does little or nothing to address the issue of speed camera errors which brought about calls for reform in the first place, and trying to sugar coat that while lowing the bar for accuracy could actually make matters even worse.

AAA was fully aware of the weakness of the reform bill which was passed.  AAA has bragged to the press that the bill would 'end the bounty system' knowing perfectly well that contractors continue to get paid based on the number of tickets, that so far few if any speed camera programs have altered their existing bounty system contract, and that lawmaker put the loophole there *by design*.  In doing this, AAA has provided support to a program which continues to be broken and corrupt to this day, and which is arguably even more corrupt for having yet another lie piled on top of all the old lies.