Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bill Would End Photo-Ticketing For Right Turns

A bill has been introduced into the House which would would end the use of red light cameras to issue tickets to vehicles making right turns where right turn are permitted.

House Bill 410, sponsored by Delegates Neil Parrott, Jason Buckel, Kevin Hornberger, Nicholaus Kipke, Trent Kittleman, Ric Metzgar, and Haven Shoemaker, would change Maryland's red light camera statute to state : "THIS SECTION DOES NOT APPLY TO A VIOLATION IN WHICH A MOTOR VEHICLE MAKES A RIGHT TURN AT AN INTERSECTION MONITORED BY A TRAFFIC CONTROL SIGNAL MONITORING SYSTEM"

The bill was prompted by outcries from motorists who received red light camera tickets while making slow moving right turns at intersections where right turn on red is not prohibited.  When the City of Rockville began ticketing for right turns en-mass in 2012, some camera locations issued more than ten times as many camera tickets as they had prior to the new ticketing practices going into effect.   The new right-turn-optimized cameras were activated without significant prior notification to the public and without updating the signage at the locations to note that tickets would be issued for right turns.  One camera located at WB Gude drive at Gaither Road which had previously been issuing 36-83 tickets per month the year prior to the upgrade, issued 1813 tickets in a single month to motorist surprised by the City's new practice.  Many of the tickets were issued to motorists in dedicated right turn lanes. 

Right Turn Cameras Produced Ticket Revenue Boom
We reported in October of 2014 that despite assertions to the press by Rockville City officials that the number of red light camera tickets had "dropped", in fact Rockville still issued more than twice as many red light camera tickets in 2013 than 2011 (the last full year before cameras optimized for ticketing right turns were installed). While the city asserted in response to public information requests that they did not keep any statistics about what number of tickets were issued for right turns, this would indicate that the majority of RLC tickets issued by Rockville may actually be for right turns rather than "straight through" violations.  Rockville's ticketing practices permit issuing RLC tickets motorists who are traveling as slow as 14mph a short distance before reaching the intersection, and begin issuing tickets only 0.1second (literally a blink of an eye) after the light changed red. 

Maryland law requires motorists to make a full stop "behind a clearly marked stop line" before proceeding to make a right turn on red.  However Maryland's current red light camera law  
makes no mention of "right turns" at all nor do the "fiscal policy notes" for Maryland's original red light camera law.  Many jurisdictions have chosen to interpret the state's RLC law to include ticketing for right turns, as well as in some cases issuing ticket to vehicles which did stop at a red light but partially ahead of the white line.   

Ticketed Vehicles Include Those Which Make Full Stops
In one case, a motorist complained about being forced to pay a fine for a Rockville RLC ticket where the recorded video showed their vehicle DID fully stop before making a right turn, but had pulled slightly ahead of the white line in order to see around a piled up snowbank.  The City of Rockville continues to defend such ticketing practices as legal.

Montgomery County's Public Relations Lie
The Montgomery County government also installed the same model of new red light cameras.  Montgomery County does sometimes issue right turn tickets, but uses somewhat different standards for citation review than the City of Rockville.

When Montgomery County officials were asked why newly installed red light cameras were "flashing" motorists who were not making right turns, the officials lied to the press by stating these were "warning flashes".  In fact there is NO standard traffic signal whatsoever for issuing "warning flashes" to motorists approaching.  When a red light cameras flashes they are taking pictures, so the county and their vendor can look for "technical violations".  However stating this directly does not fit local governments' narrative that "if you don't want your picture taken don't run a red light" and lying to the Public for PR reasons would appear to be an A-OK public policy in Montgomery County.


NHTSA Report Disputes That Right Turn On Red Is A Major Cause of Accidents
A 1995 study on Right Turn on Red issued by the NHTSA to Congress found that right turn on red, under all conditions combined, was not a major cause of accidents.   The report noted that  "Right-Turn-On-Red crashes represent a very small proportion of the total number of traffic crashes in the four states (0.05 percent). RTOR injury and fatal crashes represent a fraction of 1 percent of all fatal and injury crashes (0.06 percent). RTOR crashes represent a very small proportion of signalized intersection crashes (0.4 percent)."  The report further noted that " Thus, less than 0.2 percent of all fatalities involved a right-turning vehicle maneuver at an intersection where RTOR is permitted " while further noting that some of these accidents actually occurred when the light was not red for the turning vehicle at all and that the actual numbers are even lower than this would indicate.

Bill Must Pass Motorist-Hostile Committee

A hearing for the bill is scheduled for February 26 before the Environmental and Transportation Committee.  The members of this committee are:
kumar.barve@house.state.md.us
dana.stein@house.state.md.us
Carl.Anderton@house.state.md.us
pamela.beidle@house.state.md.us
alfred.carr@house.state.md.us
Andrew.Cassilly@house.state.md.us
Bob.Flanagan@house.state.md.us
david.fraser.hidalgo@house.state.md.us
barbara.frush@house.state.md.us
jim.gilchrist@house.state.md.us
anne.healey@house.state.md.us
marvin.holmes@house.state.md.us
jay.jacobs@house.state.md.us
Tony.Knotts@house.state.md.us
stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us
Clarence.Lam@house.state.md.us
Cory.McCray@house.state.md.us
anthony.odonnell@house.state.md.us
charles.otto@house.state.md.us
shane.robinson@house.state.md.us
kathy.szeliga@house.state.md.us
cathy.vitale@house.state.md.us

Monday, February 9, 2015

Delegates Re-Introduce Speed Camera Audit Bill

Legislation has been submitted which would require quarterly audits of all local speed camera programs.

The bill, HB0271, states that
(7) (I) A LOCAL JURISDICTION SHALL OBTAIN A QUARTERLY AUDIT OF ITS SPEED MONITORING SYSTEMS CONDUCTED BY A QUALIFIED INDEPENDENT PERSON.
(II)  THE RESULTS OF THE QUARTERLY AUDIT SHALL BE KEPT ON FILE;
AND
2. SHALL BE ADMITTED AS EVIDENCE IN ANY COURT PROCEEDING FOR A VIOLATION OF THIS SECTION.

The bill was submitted by Delegates Warren Miller, Christopher Adams, Stephen Arentz,
Susan Aumann, Jason Buckel , John Cluster , Mark Fisher , Kevin Hornberger ,
Seth Howard , Rick Impallaria , Nicholaus Kipke , Trent Kittleman , Robert Long
Susan McComas , Tony McConkey , Mike McKay , Ric Metzgar, Nathaniel Oaks, Neil Parrott,
Sid Saab, Meagan Simonaire, Kathy Szeliga, and Chris West.  It was previously introduced last year as House Bill 1288.

The bill was prompted in part because Baltimore City's speed camera program was shown to have
experienced huge numbers of erroneous speed camera tickets, and the City shut down their program after the erroneous ticket became publicly known.  The city conducted a "secret" audit of their program, which they initially attempted to conceal from the press.  That audit showed that many cameras had issued double-digit percentages of ticket that were in error.  A second audit of the program was conducted --- the city initially attempted to keep that audit secret as well --- which confirmed substantial numbers of tickets had been issued based on incorrect speed readings.  These matters were widely reported by the local press, including the Baltimore Sun.  Some documented incidents included stationary vehicles getting speeding tickets.  The audits prompted a separate investigation by the city inspector general which additionally alleged improper conduct by a city official involved in the program.

An audit of the SHA's program also disclosed several significant issued.  The SHA audit criticized the agency for failing to have their speed cameras independently certified for the first nine months they were in use (in fact it was only after this website disclosed that fact that the testing was actually done).  The audit also revealed that the SHA had failed to follow their own standards for testing equipment, and that a requirement that equipment approved by the IACP be used had been dropped during the procurement process --- a change which gave contractor Xerox an advantage in the bidding.

The bill failed to gain traction last year because under the O'Malley administration, no state agency was willing to oversee such audits.  Local governments which profit from speed cameras also opposed having outside oversight of any kind, apparently since they were terrified that audits might reveal errors in their own programs.

Erroneous speed readings have been alleged in other jurisdictions.  Last year a group of school teachers in Wicomico County complained that a camera near their school had issued erroneous tickets.  A speed camera contract between the Town of Cheverly and Optotraffic was ended amid revelations that cameras had recorded a bike going 38 mph and an “invisible vehicle” travelling 76 mph.   The Maryland Drivers Alliance attempted for years to obtain documents verifying that the Town of Brentwood had issued erroneous tickets, and when the town finally disclosed documents under pressure of a lawsuit evidence of many erroneous citations were revealed.

Prior to the Baltimore City debacle, speed camera programs would generally recite to the public a mantra of "If you don't speed you won't get a ticket".

Because such audits would be admitted as evidence in speed camera hearings, defendants in a speed camera case would be able to reference the contents of such an audit in their defense.  Currently, were a motorist to attempt to enter a document such as the Baltimore City audits into evidence to demonstrate that cameras are capable of error, the documents would likely be dismissed as "hearsay" unless the defendant were first able to go through the complicated process of authenticating the document under Maryland Rules.  This is despite the fact that local governments are permitted to admit documents they claim show the documents were tested without authentication, and they are accepted as proof of the accuracy of equipment by the courts, without a requirement that the agency provide an expert witness to confirm the validity of the testing method.  ( The cameras in Baltimore City which issued erroneous tickets did pass their calibration tests, even on the very day the device issued an erroneous tickets to a stationary car, which was the result of what the vendor described as "radar effects" caused by external phenomenon, not incorrect calibration. )

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Governor Hogan Calls For Gas Tax Cuts, More Road Funding in State of the State

Recently sworn in Governor Larry Hogan addressed the issue of transportation funding in his State of the State address today.  Excerpt follows
Repealing Automatic Gas Tax Increases 
After siphoning a billion dollars from the Transportation Trust Fund, a decision was made to enact the largest gas tax increase in state history. This legislation also included language that would automatically increase taxes every single year without it ever having a coming up for a vote.
 
Marylanders deserve the transparency to know how their elected leaders vote every time the state takes a bigger share of their hard-earned dollars. This is a regressive tax that hurts struggling Maryland families and our most vulnerable, and which adds to the cost of almost everything.
 
These automatic tax increases should be repealed, and we will submit legislation to do so.
 
Improving Transportation
Over the last several years, monies for local road improvements have been slashed by up to 96 percent. 
 
Our administration is committed to restoring the money that was taken from the transportation trust fund, and to making sure that it never happens again. 
 
Today I am pleased to announce a supplemental to our FY2016 budget that will increase Highway User Revenues by $25 million and give counties and municipalities the most money for road improvements that they have received since FY 2009.
 
Further, we are committed to increasing the local share of Highway User Revenues from 10% today to its original high point of 30% over the next 8 years. .

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Leggett's Independent Transit Authority Proposal (MC 24-15) Pommeled by Grass Roots Opposition -(Updated)

( This posting has been updated to reflect recent developments)
Opponents of a bill which would increase property tax bills to fund a new Independent Transit Authority (ITA) in Montgomery County are celebrating as the county may be pulling back from the plan after outraged citizens rallied against the bill and the manner in which it was introduced.

The bill (MC 24-15) would have authorized a "special taxing district", covering the entire county, and authorized a new mass transit tax.  The newly created ITA would have had jurisdiction over all mass transit programs planned by the county, including proposed Bus Rapid Transit and Corridor City Transit Way plans.

The members of the ITA's board would have been selected by the county executive and would have had sweeping powers.  One of the most criticized points was that the agency would be explicitly exempt from the county charter:  "PROVISIONS OF THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY CHARTER DO NOT APPLY TO THE TRANSIT AUTHORITY UNLESS THE GOVERNING BODY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXPRESSLY PROVIDES BY LAW THAT A CHARTER PROVISION APPLIES TO THE TRANSIT AUTHORITY" reads the bill.   A letter from the county council made clear that "The central reason for an ITA is as a means to raise more funding by taking the Mass Transit Tax out from under the property tax cap in the Charter, allowing that tax to be raised significantly to support revenue bonds issued by the authority. "

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Legislature Failed In Timely Completion Of Open Records Study

We reported last year how the state legislature gutted a bill to reform the Maryland Public Information Act by replacing the proposal to create a state Public Information Act Compliance Board with a mere promise to complete a study by January 1, 2015 including receiving public input.  However January 1 came and went, and the study was never conducted.

The Maryland Public Information Act is the state's equivalent of the federal FOIA, and theoretically provides member of the public broad access to a wide variety of public records.  However Maryland nevertheless rates very low in transparency by some measures.  If a request is not handled by a local or state government agency in a timely manner, is denied, an excessive fee demanded, or the agency is just generally unresponsive in producing records, a requester must be prepared to spend months or even years disputing the matter in Court.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance has encountered exactly such difficulties obtaining information from some local governments, and has been forced to take two such disputes to court and in both cases substantially prevailed... but  only after enough time had elapsed to render many documents obsolete for the original purpose of the requests.

In the case of the other portion of Maryland's sunshine laws, the Open Meetings Act, Maryland has an Open Meetings Compliance board which permits a complaint to be brought for adjudication in a far more timely and less expensive manner.  This system works remarkably well.  The bill (HB 658) originally would have created a similar board for the Maryland Public Information Act which could adjudicate public records disputes in a timely manner, allowing disputes to be resolved far more quickly and saving both local governments and sequesters the cost of a protracted legal dispute.

The bill had strong support from the press and various organizations supporting transparency, none in the legislature were willing to actually speak against the bill openly, and the cost of the board had been deemed insignificant in the fiscal policy notes of the bill.  Despite this, the legislature instead deleted the entire content of the bill and replaced it with a mandate that the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government  "shall conduct a study on how to improve the administrative process for resolving appeals under the Maryland Public Information Act" including input from the OAG, the press organization, local governments, and "other parties that express interest in participating in the study".  The modified bill required that "On or before January 1, 2015, the Joint Committee shall report its findings and any recommended legislation to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Health and Government Operations Committee."

The Chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance sought to provide this study with information gleaned from the two MPIA appeals we were forced to file.  However we soon learned from the committee staff that the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government was dissolved by a different act of the legislature last year, and was replaced by a new committee which only recently began to be reconstituted.  Thus as of January 27, 2015, no study had taken place, and no hearings had been held to collect input from "other parties".

One is left wondering the legislature not only succeeded in dodging the issue of public records reform last year -- without the need to vote against it --- but also may have set themselves up to be able to claim that they cannot proceed with public records reform this year either since the required study has not yet been done.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

DC Photo Enforcement Revenues Decline Sharply Due to Broken Cameras

DC initially claimed that a sharp decline in speed camera was due to the cameras being effective at stopping speeding.  In reality, the revenue decline was largely because the cameras were broken.   From the Washington Post:
D.C. police acknowledged this week that a sharp decline in revenue from the city’s network of traffic enforcement cameras was due in part to problems maintaining some of the equipment — undermining earlier claims that the drop was mainly due to motorists doing a better job obeying the law.
Assistant Chief Lamar D. Greene, who oversees the camera program, said in a statement that severe weather last year contributed to the maintenance issues.
“During periods of extreme cold and snow last winter, there were instances when we could not change the batteries because they were not accessible, or the temperature affected the charge,” he said. “We have taken additional steps to enhance internal temperature controls since last winter, alleviating this problem.”
The police department responded after D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) blamed the maintenance problems for a $38 million reduction in camera revenue at a budget briefing Monday morning. Mendelson said the issues arose after the police department assumed direct responsibility for the operations of the cameras.
 
....

Montgomery County Delegates Seek to Raise Property Tax Bills, Circumvent County Charter, to Fund Transit Programs

Montgomery County Delegation Chair Shane Robinson and Vice Chair Kirill Reznik
At the request of the county government and County Executive Ike Leggett, the Montgomery County Delegation to the General Assembly is seeking authority to create a new Independent Transit Authority (ITA) to run all of the county's mass transit programs, and to create a special taxing district", covering the entire county, to fund it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Long Delayed Brentwood Documents Reveal Erroneous Speed Camera Tickets

After years of attempting to obtain documents under the Maryland Public Information Act(MPIA), the Town of Brentwood had turned over documents pertaining to errors by their speed camera program.  The long delayed documents reveal evidence of multiple complaints by motorists and obvious erroneous citations.

Years of Delays Accessing Public Records
After receiving reports of erroneous citations in 2010, the chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance filed a public information act request with the Town of Brentwood in October 2010 (over four years ago) which the town received via certified mail on October 18, 2010.  The town sent no reply within the 30 day time limit permitted under Maryland's transparency law.  After several attempts to obtain a response from the two failed, we filed a second request for additional documents.  The municipality received that second request via certified mail on December 5, 2011, and again did not respond within the 30 day time limit under the MPIA.

The MPIA is Maryland's equivalent of the FOIA which subjects most types of records to public inspection.  Local governments are required by law to respond to MPIA requests within 30 days and are permitted to withhold records only under a limited number of exemptions.  There is no provision of state law which permits a local government to ignore an MPIA request from anyone.

After multiple additional attempts to obtain the requested documents were unsuccessful, we filed for Judicial Review in Circuit Court, which is the legal recourse permitted under the MPIA.  The attorney for the town provided a small amount of correspondence dated after May 2013.

Brentwood claimed that they could not produce correspondence from the time period of the original requests, because they had lost the passwords to all relevant email accounts that they had used for the requested correspondence.  One of the town asserted they had lost was a Hotmail account.  As of 2014, this address was still listed on the town website and as of 1/20/2014 this email address was still listed on Brentwood's contact address on the msa.maryland.gov website (a state directory of local governments).

In May of 2014, the town agreed in court to work with their contractor (Optotraffic) to retrieve correspondence which still existed, and the case was kept open for an additional 120 days to oversee this.  However at the end of the 120 day period the additional documents had still not been turned over and town's attorney had ceased responding to communications with us, and the we were forced to request an additional hearing date.  A week before the new hearing in January 2015, and more than four years after the initial request, an additional 42 pages of correspondence discussing speed camera errors from around 2011 was finally produced.

A Pattern of Errors?
We already knew that errors were occurring in the recent past since the documents produced in 2013 showed several cases where voided because the had been issued to the wrong vehicle.  In addition, a citation which had been issued was voided because of a false speed reading".  The new (or rather very old) documents just obtained in January 2015 showed that errors did not begin in 2013.

Among the issues prompting the initial requests had been a news report that buses had received erroneous tickets from Brentwood.  One of the documents did reference metro buses:  "Hi Angie.  This is another metro bus ticket I spoke with the Chief and he agreed to dismiss it!"

One of the documents disclosed this month revealed that in July of 2010 then Police Chief David Risik  complained to Optotraffic about the number of Errors they had been seeing:
Documents in both the January 2015 and October 2014 disclosure showed that tickets issued to incorrect vehicles were in fact a relatively routine occurrence.

Some motorists also alleged that speed readings were in error, however it is unclear from the documents whether these cases were disputed in court.

Some disclosed emails dated from 2011 showed that some individuals from the town were apparently using personal email accounts to conduct official business regarding the speed camera program.  Some correspondence between the town's staff and Optotraffic were being conducted from a "UMD.EDU" address.

Unfortunately, we will never know what information responsive to our requests might have lost because the town did not respond in a timely manner.  Furthermore, the long delay in obtaining these records meant that the Maryland Drivers Alliance did not have the benefit of this data when speed camera reform legislation was debated in previous years and some members of the legislature favoring the weak smoke and mirrors reform legislation they ended up passing were asserting that speed camera errors were exclusively a Baltimore City phenomenon.

Excerpts from Documents Produced in January 2014 (4 years after first request)


















Excerpts from documents disclosed in October 2013 ( 3 years after initial request)









Monday, January 12, 2015

Insurance Administration orders State Farm to refund premium increases that resulted from "not at fault" claims

State Farm, one of the largest automobile insurance providers in Maryland, has been ordered to refund all premium increases that were due to "not at fault" automobile insurance claims by Maryland customers.

The refund orders, which were revealed by a official of the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) who is not authorized to speak on the record, were issued after State Farm was found to be non-compliant with the section of Maryland insurance law that pertains to notification of rate changes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pedestrian Accidents Declined in Baltimore After Speed Cameras Turned Off

When Baltimore shut down their speed camera program after the discovery of widespread errors including speeding tickets issued to stationary vehicles, some worried that traffic safety in school zones would be harmed by the move.  However accident data from the city did not support that this has happened.  According to the Baltimore Sun:
"According to Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration data, no pedestrians were injured by vehicles in city school zones in 2012 or 2013. In 2012, Baltimore had 83 speed cameras monitoring motorists and generating millions of dollars in revenue. In 2013, Baltimore's speed cameras were turned off for all but about three weeks. They have not been turned on since.

Citywide, 261 pedestrians under age 18 were injured by vehicles, with one killed, when the cameras were running in 2012. In 2013, with the cameras off, 221 young pedestrians were injured and none killed.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's Department of Transportation, called the statistics a "positive development" that shows the agency is improving safety."
Baltimore's speed camera program was in full operation for most of 2012 except for the last two weeks in the year.  The program was then shut down and only restarted for a few weeks in 2013 before being shut down again for the rest of 2013, amid revelations of new erroneous citations.  The pedestrian incident data represents a 15% decline from 2012 to 2013, and in fact there were no pedestrian collisions involving students i school zones where the speed cameras would have been running.  Overall, data from the city showed "mixed results" when it came to safety.  Overall traffic accidents in the city increased by 1.2% from 2012 to 2013, however the number of accidents in the city resulting in injuries fell by 4.5%.  Traffic fatalities in the city did not change at all from 2012 to 2013.

"Reform" Legislation Allows Xerox to Lift Ban on "The O Word"

For years, speed camera contractors in Maryland justified so called "Bounty System" contracts which appeared to violate a prohibition in Maryland law by avoiding using the term "Operate" to describe what they do under speed camera contracts.  Now, after a minor change to state law passed year, it appears that speed camera contractors no longer feel bound to avoid using the term at all.

Under the old version of state law, the statute said "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."   However speed camera contractors easily circumvented this prohibition by simply not using the term "operate" to describe what they do.  Speed camera contractors, following guidance from the Attorney General's office, religiously avoided using the term "operate" to describe the contractor's activities and used this semantic loophole to implement "Bounty System" contracts which paid fees contingent on the number of tickets issued.  Under such deals, the vendors received a payment based on the number of tickets issued and still maintained substantial control over the equipment and the processing of violations... so long as they religiously avoided using the WORD "operate" to describe what they did.  (Or as we said "Don't Use the O Word!")  The word "operate" was carefully scrubbed from all descriptions of what contractors did in most contracts and official correspondence, even though contractors in reality maintained substantial control over the deployment of machines, their calibration, and the processing of violations.

In 2014 (after even Governor O'Malley was forced to concede that the practice did not meet the intent of state law) a so called "reform" to the state's speed camera law reworded the prohibition.  The new wording:
If a contractor IN ANY MANNER operates a speed monitoring system OR ADMINISTERS OR PROCESSES CITATIONS GENERATED BY A SPEED MONITORING SYSTEM on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent ON A PER–TICKET BASIS on the number of citations issued or paid
Xerox celebrates that they can once again "Use the 'O' Word" to describe what they do
was CLAIMED by supporters of Maryland's current speed camera law to "End the Bounty System".  However the language in this bill was written by representatives from some of Maryland's largest speed camera programs, who were determined to include deliberate loopholes to lock in their existing practices.  For example, the bill specifically grandfathered in all existing contracts (there were about three dozen separate local speed camera programs in the state using bounty system contracts), and even allowed new bounty system contracts to be locked in for several months before the bill went into effect.  In addition, using a subtle twisting of words only an attorney can fully appreciate, the addition of the words "ON A PER-TICKET BASIS" does not have the legal effect of creating a stronger prohibition, but rather it narrows the types of contracts which the prohibition applied to so that only those which explicitly pay a set dollar amount for a single ticket were prohibited, but exclude other types of arrangements which are based on ticket volume (now being referred to as 'hybrid contracts' and 'tiered systems').  Only a few "bounty system" speed camera contracts in the state have had their payment terms changed since the bill's passage... other than to extend the contract periods until 2017, most speed camera contracts in the state still pay their contractor based on the number of tickets.

However this dishonest "reform-in-name-only" legislation did change one thing: Since existing contracts have all been "grandfathered in", speed camera contractors no longer feel the need to maintain the ruse of avoiding the use of the term "operate" to describe what they do, since they need not worry about the issue being raised by ticket defendants in court.  Speed Camera Contractor Xerox Corporation recently updated their website to freely use "The O Word" in marketing to describe what they do.  heir website now reads "That’s why we install, operate and maintain customization, automated, photo-enforcement solutions, including red light, speed and school bus cameras." and "We specialize in operations—not just equipment. That means we can develop a customized solution that meets your operational and safety needs in a variety of areas. As an integrator, we unify the overall operation and provide a single point of contact with full responsibility for the program—making a complex safety solution simple to execute in your community."

This is what constitutes "reform" according to the Maryland legislature.

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.

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.

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 TheNewspaper.com:

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.