Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Opinion: First Day of I-66 Tolls Provides Cautionary Tale On Congestion Pricing

On the first day in which "congestion priced" tolls were charged on I-66 inside the beltway, many motorists were surprised to see morning tolls spike at over $34, according to a report by WTOP news.

The new tolls fluctuated wildly during the day, with some morning commuters paying over $34 one way to travel just ten miles, and others paying just $8 for the same distance.

Some motorists believed they had been misled about what toll rates would be, given that previous reports claimed that "the high end of tolls on a typical day at around $9 at the busiest times".  WTOP reported that a local advocacy group, "The 66 Alliance", to claim Northern Virginia commuters had been sold a bill of goods: "The 66 Alliance calls on VDOT to suspend the I-66 toll program immediately and for the Virginia General Assembly to investigate VDOT, Secretary Layne and the I-66 toll program before the program is permitted to be re-launched" stated the group's press release.

Authorities in VDOT asserted the system was working as designed, stating "Overall, we were pleased, and things ran smoothly".

The tolls on I-66 follow a model of "Congestion pricing", in which tolls are raised or lowered based on the volume of traffic.  Congestion pricing is widely supported by the tolling industry, and by some quasi-government organizations who see it as a solution to obtaining funds without the need for legislators to be held accountable for raising gas taxes.  

However, as this and other instances show what can happen if motorists are given no say on what toll rates are set at and if lawmakers are shielded from responsibility for toll rates.  This is not the first time Virginia motorists have balked at fees which mysterious and fickle congestion pricing models have produced.  This past winter some motorists using the 495 express lanes near Vienna were stunned to learn that they had been charged $30 for a single trip due to the effects of a snow storm.

Motorists will likely not be given a seat at the table to determine whether congestion pricing will be used or whether another solution should be found.  Pilot studies into congestion pricing and the even more ambition idea of "vehicle mile traveled" (VMT) fees and have been conducted in the DC area.  Yet these pilots have revolved around how to SELL the idea to the public and how to go about introducing such fees, rather than taking seriously the concerns raised about them -- concerns not just about the fairness in the amount of fees, but also the enormous privacy concerns involved which broad ideas like the VMT fees raise.  Maryland is certainly going to see more congestion priced systems introduced in the future. The ICC already uses a form of congestion priced model, and the new regional toll lanes recently proposed by Governor Hogan are likely to be congestion priced.  And unlike gas taxes, toll rates are not set by the legislature so lawmakers need never have their votes on the amount of tolls recorded for the people to review.  In the past two years, legislation was introduced which would forbid the creation of a VMT tax in Maryland, a fee that would amount to creating congestion pricing on ALL roads, and the bill died in committee: Apparently some lawmakers in the Maryland House of Delegates wish to reserve the possibility of imposing congestion pricing on ALL existing roads in their back pocket for the future even if they don't want to talk about this openly.

Many believe congestion pricing is a good solution to solving a nearly unsolvable problem of traffic congestion, allowing people to decide the value of their own time spent sitting in traffic.  But there is a down side in that it actually provides a financial incentive for local and state governments NOT to spend our gas tax dollars or toll dollars providing pursuing other traffic congestion solutions and ensuring that those who cannot afford high tolls have an alternative, since Tolling companies and agencies will actually bring in more money the worse traffic gets. 

Free market solutions are really good at solving many problems.  But diehard libertarians should bear in mind that toll roads are NOT free market solutions, they are government sanctioned monopolies.   An entrepreneur or fortune 500 company cannot simply come in and built their own road which offers a better rate.  As such, it is elected officials who should be responsible for ensuring that the maximum cost per mile is not allowed to be set too high, and held responsible if that is not done.  Left unchecked, massively high tolls provide an alternative fast route only for the very very wealthy, rather than funding new travel routes which actually provide some relief to taxpayer-financed commuter roads as some thought they were promised would happen.  Motorists with less extravagant budgets would be well advised to not wait to demand a bigger seat at the table in setting limits on tolls, if for no other reason than to ensure the wealthy have some actual skin in the game of solving traffic problems just like everyone else does.

Additional Coverage:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Have You Gotten a Ticket for a LEFT Turn?

The Maryland Drivers Alliance is looking for individuals who have received red light camera citations for making a LEFT turn on red. We are particularly interested in contacting individuals who have received such citations from Montgomery County or the City of Rockville, but are seeking such data from other locations in the state as well. 

If you have received such a citation and wish to help an important investigation that will benefit motorists and traffic safety, we ask that you please contact us at mddriversalliance@gmail.com, and provide us with the location, speed limit, "Yellow Time", "Red Time", and date shown on your violation if that information was provided to you.  Your personal information will be kept confidential.  Thank you.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Hogan Calls for New Network of Express Toll Lanes

Governor Larry Hogan has unveiled a $9billion plan to widen I-270, I-495, and the Baltimore Washington Parkway with a network of express toll lanes. The plan would involve adding approximately 100 miles of new lanes to the Beltway, I-270, and the Baltimore Washington Parkway.  Private companies would begin submitting bids to build the new lanes within six months.  The model would be similar to the express toll lanes used on the Virginia side of I-495.

The plan has drawn praise from tolling Companies and from AAA, but has been harshly criticized by "smart growth advocates" who favor transit, and from some members of the state legislature.

The plan will likely face numerous challenges before it proceeds.  An environmental impact study would need to be performed, a vendor selected, and there will likely be court challenges before the plan can proceed.

=========== Governor's Press Release ===============
$9 Billion Traffic Relief Plan, Largest Highway P3 in North America RFI Released Today
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Delivering on his commitment to provide innovative transportation solutions for Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan today announced the administration’s plans to add four new lanes to I-270, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295). The $9 billion Traffic Relief Plan for these three major state highways will reduce congestion for millions of drivers and mark the beginning of a historic and transformative effort to significantly improve the traffic conditions on some of Maryland’s most traveled roads and highways for years to come.

These three massive, unprecedented projects to widen I-495, I-270, and MD 295 will be absolutely transformative, and they will help Maryland citizens go about their daily lives in a more efficient and safer manner,” said Governor Hogan. “Today, we are turning Maryland’s celebrated innovation into real action. These projects will substantially and dramatically improve our state highway system and traffic in the region.

Joining the governor were Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Pete K. Rahn, MDOT State Highway Administrator Greg Slater, Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Kevin Reigrut, as well as elected officials and community and business representatives from throughout the Baltimore-Washington region.

Today’s announcement officially begins the process to solicit the Public-Private Partnership (P3) industry for input and solutions to provide major congestion relief to these key transportation routes. With the total project estimated value at $9 billion, the P3 portion to add four new lanes on both I-495 and I-270 is the largest proposed P3 highway project in North America. The P3 will be seeking private developers to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain new lanes on I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on I-270 between I-495 and I-70. Once completed, the Traffic Relief Plan will deliver new express toll lanes, in addition to existing lanes, on I-495, I-270, and MD 295.

Using innovation and partnering with some of the greatest minds in the world, Maryland is going to finally get some congestion relief by investing $9 billion in three of the most congested highways in the state,” said Secretary Rahn.

The first step to build new express toll lanes on MD 295 will begin with the transfer of MD 295 from the U.S. Department of the Interior to the Maryland Transportation Authority. Governor Hogan has already personally started this process during a recent meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and has directed MDOT officials to move forward with the transfer negotiations. Following the transfer, the Maryland Transportation Authority would then build, operate, and maintain the new lanes and maintain existing lanes between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The Traffic Relief Plan announced today is critical to spurring increased economic development and restoring quality of life for countless Marylanders who have been negatively affected by years of traffic congestion. Maryland has the second-longest commuting times in the country, and the National Capital Region is the most congested region in the nation based on annual delay and congestion cost per auto-commuter. The statewide cost of congestion based on auto delay, truck delay, and wasted fuel and emissions was estimated at $2 billion in 2015. This is an increase of 22 percent from the $1.7 billion estimated cost of congestion in 2013. More than 98 percent of the weekday congestion cost was incurred in the Baltimore/Washington region.

In making this announcement today, Governor Hogan has directed MDOT to issue the Request for Information to the P3 industry and continue the transfer process with the U.S. Department of the Interior

Do you agree with Governor Hogan's new Express Toll Lane plan?

(poll results may take a few moments to update)
Baltimore Sun: $9 billion highway project would widen 3 major Maryland roadways with toll lanes
WTOP:  Hogan proposes $9B plan to add new lanes to Beltway, 270 and BW Parkway

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Opinion: Montgomery County's "Admit Nothing, Keep the Loot" Policy

Frequently, we at the Maryland Drivers Alliance find ourselves criticizing programs like Baltimore City's speed camera program, which had a long pattern of issuing erroneous citatinos.  But in fairness, we rightly should give credit to Baltimore's photo enforcement program for one thing: in at least some cases in the past, Baltimore City's program has ADMITTED to making mistakes.  And in the most recent instance where Baltimore messed up on the first day back in business by issuing hundreds of erroneous duplicate tickets, they voided or refunded all those tickets.  It's appropriate to point out that at least in some cases, Baltimore City's program did the right thing by admitting to errors and issuing refunds when they were in fact at fault.

There have been other cases such as in speed camera programs in Greenbelt and Hagerstown, where the cities refunded at least some citations and admit the truth after annual calibrations were allowed to lapse.  While we have in the past cited these as examples of things programs have done wrong, we should also rightly give these programs credit for NOT simply hiring a team of attorneys to cover their tracks and finding a way to keep improperly gained ticket revenue.  When an agency breaks the rules, the ethical thing to do is to void or refund all the tickets, not to argue that it is OK for the government to break the law or to try and invent bizarre legal loopholes to justify an improper action or errors after the fact.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett
But not all programs believe in admitting mistakes and refunding tickets.  And the prime example to that is the "model" photo enforcement program in Montgomery County.   The Montgomery County Government wrote the book on the principal of "Admit Nothing and Keep the Loot".  In the "Baker vs Montgomery County" case, Montgomery County spent thousands of dollars worth of taxpayer money fighting for the principal of government immunity, successfully establishing the legal precedent that no matter what a speed camera program does wrong, no matter what defect might exist in their system, no matter what rules, standards, or laws were broken by a local government, in Maryland a photo enforcement program cannot be sued to compel refunds.  Thanks to this ruling, in Maryland, "The Crown Can Do No Wrong".

We have observed this program living up to the "ideal" of "once you have their money, never give it back".  When it was discovered that Montgomery County had been systematically failing to record daily calibration logs for their equipment, the agency's initial response was to state "we're not going to do those tests every day", and to not issue refunds for the THOUSANDS of citations which had been issued without valid calibration records.  Years later, we confirmed that the legally required calibrations did not exist, and the citations issued on those days had never been refunded.   When we asked Montgomery County's  "Ombudsman" (who was in fact the deputy director of the speed camera program and not in any way independent) to investigate this matter, to which he eventually responded "As Montgomery County’s Local Designee, I will conduct a review of citations issued on weekends and holidays during 2009, 2010, and 2011 to determine whether or not it was systematically the case that the Montgomery County Police issued speed camera citations for violations that occurred on days when no daily set-up logs were filled out and signed, and no Montgomery County operators were on duty.  And I will provide you, Mr. Ely (the requestor) with a written response describing my findings."  More than a full year later,  we have yet to see the "findings" from this "investigation" by the "Ombudsman".  Two complaints sent to the "Ombudsman" about this in October of 2016 were never responded to.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Baltimore's Speed Camera Program Screws Up On Day One

Baltimore City's speed camera program issued $38,480 worth of erroneous citations on the first day the program resumed after being shut down since 2013 due to previous errors, according to a report by the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore City's speed camera program had been shut down since 2013 due to systematic errors by their program, including tickets given to stationary vehicles, and big rig trucks falsely cited for traveling at twice their actual speed.  Two independent audits of Baltimore's speed camera program found that 5-10%. of tickets issued were actually due to errors, with tickets going to vehicles that were in fact not speeding.  Baltimore's contractor at the time was forced to admit to the errors and the program was shut down.

The city's speed camera program began ticketing again on July 31, 2017 with a new vendor, American Traffic Solutions.  However on the first day in operation, the cameras coughed up hundreds of duplicate citations, citing
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh
Unfortunately the July 31st violation file was submitted twice, causing two notices to be sent for some of the violations that were captured on that day,” company spokesman Charles Territo admitted in a statement. 

Before being shut down in 2013, Baltimore's speed camera program was bringing in $20million/year in revenue.  Mayor Catherine Pugh had welcomed the return of the speed camera program.  But City Comptroller Joan Pratt objected to the program's restart and abstained from the vote to restart the program, stating that she was not confident the program would be run correctly, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Oh Baltimore Speed Cameras, such memories you bring back for us....

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Traffic Improvement Project for I-270 Begins

On July 11, Governor Larry Hogan announced the start of construction of the $97.71 million I-270 interchange project at Watkins Mill Road. This major congestion relief project will improve one of Maryland’s most heavily traveled roadways in Montgomery County, benefiting tens of thousands of travelers who drive the I-270 corridor.
As we kick off construction of the new Watkins Mill interchange, we are delivering a much-needed missing link – a new east-west route across I-270 that improves access to the Metropolitan Grove MARC Station and supports the planned growth and economic development in this region,” said Governor Hogan. “We are making sure Maryland will continue to be open for business, and we are helping the citizens of Montgomery County, and people all across the state, go about their daily lives in a faster, more efficient, and safer manner.
The 1.25-mile project extends between MD 124 (Montgomery Village Avenue) and the Great Seneca Creek crossing near Game Preserve Road in Gaithersburg.
Source: Office of Governor Larry Hogan

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Montgomery County Red Light Violations Drop 50% After Yellow Light Retimed

Violations issued by a Montgomery County red light camera declined more than 50% after the yellow light timing was increased in response to concerns raised by local media and by the Maryland Drivers Alliance that the light did not meet standards set by the SHA.  However the county government is refusing to issue refunds even after the Office of Inspector General found 13% of traffic signals had yellow lights out of compliance with current Maryland SHA policy.

The red light camera located at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road was issuing citations for the left turn lane displaying a yellow time of only 2.9 seconds, which is shorter than any yellow light in the US is supposed to be timed at under any circumstances. After further investigation, it was discovered that the Maryland State Highway administration had adopted a policy that traffic signals should be timed according to a specific formula, and that regardless of the calculations no light should be shorter than 3.5 seconds (the formula requires a higher yellow time in most cases where the speed limit is greater than 35mph).

In 2016, county officials refused to talk to WJLA news about this traffic signal on camera, but initially told the station and the Maryland Drivers Alliance that the SHA policy was new in 2015. In fact, this policy had been established in 2003. When the Maryland Drivers Alliance asked the county to explain why they had initially claimed the policy was new, the county Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit (ATEU) manager refused to provide an answer. The county claimed the signal was timed to 3 seconds, not 2.9, however both the Maryland Drivers Alliance, WJLA, and the county's own equipment timed the actual yellow light at slightly shorter than 3 seconds. 

The County has also acknowledged that yellow light times have been calculated by applying speeds lower than the speed limit, which is explicitly a violation of Maryland SHA regulations for timing yellow lights.  This produces yellow light times shorter than what the correctly applied formula would produce if Maryland regulations were followed.  The County has also rounded the results of these calculation down to the nearest half second, when is also prohibited by state regulations.  The net result is that some traffic signals in Montgomery County had been configured with yellow light times for left turn signals shorter than the correctly applied regulations call for.  However the county DOT and ATEU continue to admit no fault in the timing of these lights, citing standards used by other jurisdictions outside Maryland which are less stringent than the SHA's adopted standards.

Under scrutiny from the media, in December of 2016 the county department of Transportation increased the left turn signal yellow time for the signal at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road to 3.5 seconds. Since then this camera saw a marked drop in violations compared to last year.

Between January 2016 and May 2016, the red light camera at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road issued 1500 citations. For the same five months in 2017, the first full months after the signal timing change, this same camera issued only 719 citations, a 52% decrease. Every month in 2017 the citation issuance rate was lower than the same month in 2016, according to statistics the county publishes to their website.

Most other cameras were not retimed and did not see a similar large decline during the same time period.  You can see the original red light camera data reports taken from the Montgomery County Website here:

Numerous studies have shown that longer yellow light times significantly reduce the rate of red light running, and that in fact a short yellow light can literally CAUSE a red light running violation.  In this particular case, the 50% reduction in violations occurred after the yellow time occurred after a yellow time increase of ONLY ½ second in ONLY ONE LANE. 

Based on the reduction in tickets, this camera was producing approximately $11,000 per month more revenue before the left turn signal yellow light was retimed to comply with the SHA's 3.5 second minimum.  For the first ten months of 2016, the camera at Georgia Avenue at Seminary road with the 4rth highest grossing camera in the county.  For the first 5 months in 2017, after the signal timing change, it dropped to the 12th most profitable.

Other yellow light times in Montgomery County may still be set shorther than the properly applied SHA standards. The county government's written statements have defended the application of standards less stringent than the SHA's adopted policies, indicating that this was done at numerous other locations.  A report by the Montgomery County Office of Inspector General confirmed that the SHA policy was in fact adopted by the state in 2003, and concluded that 13% of traffic signals in Montgomery County had times which did not meet the SHA's 3.5 second minimum timing policy. It's not clear at this time whether the OIG investigated whether other times failed to meet the formulas specified by the SHA, in addition to simply meeting the 3.5 second minimum.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance sought to obtain more detailed data than is published to the county website showing “yellow times” and "red times" for individual citations.  This would have documented precisely how many violations were directly attributable to the yellow times at red light camera locations for this left turn signal, and would have made a detailed engineering study into the impact of applying the SHA yellow light timing standards compared to the more lax standards used by the Montgomery County Government. However the Montgomery County Police Department initially declined to provide such data, and has asserted there is no public interest in releasing such data and imposed a $19,000 fee. After we appealed that fee to the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board, the ATEU Manager tried to convince the MPIA Compliance Board to uphold the excessive fee, by falsely claiming that data which was electronically stored could only be extracted by individually printing thousands of citations. While the board agreed the $19,000 fee was excessive by 90% after the vendor confirmed they did have the ability to query the data electronically, the Montgomery County Attorney asserted they were not obligated to extract the data from a database even if we paid the fee. As the MPIA compliance board's authority was limited to fees, the matter of our MPIA request remains only partially resolved and has been appealed to the Circuit Court.

Unfortunately if you receive a red light camera citation in Montgomery County due to a short yellow light, you probably have no legal recourse.  Even though the state's red light camera law explicitly states that the agency which times lights is required to ensure that yellow times meet standards “adopted” by the SHA before red light cameras cameras are deployed, the ONLY defense which the Montgomery County District Court generally accepts is if your car was stolen and you can prove it, as this is the only defense explicitly stated in the law.  District Court Judges, who are generally assigned 100 or more cases heard in “assembly line” manner in a single “red light camera day” session, often refuse to hear ANY legal arguments regarding whether it is a defense if a light was improperly timed. The agency has no burden of proof under Maryland law to prove that the traffic signals comply with state law and SHA's adopted standards, and in most cases the ONLY defense which the district court will consider is if you can prove your car was stolen.  Further biasing the court against defendants, a "court fee" is paid only by defendants into the budget of the District Court ONLY if the defendant is found guilty. The Montgomery County Government in particular has worked tirelessly to ensure that the law and the procedures governing citations ensure recipients of photo enforcement citations have no chance defending themselves, even when the government has failed to follow the law.

As for the fines collected at this camera location which have been out of compliance with SHA policies for years, the county government plans to keep the loot and is refusing to issue refunds. Apparently the Montgomery County Government believes that ignorance of the law is an excuse... if you are the government. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Baltimore To Restart Failed Camera Program

Baltimore City officials will be restarting their failed speed and red light camera programs and have selected some of the same companies who previously calibrated and run cameras which had issued thousands of erroneous tickets to innocent motorists.

Baltimore City will be hiring three companies to run the new program: American Traffic Solutions will run the speed camera program, Conduent will run the red light camera program, and MRA Digital will be hired to calibrate the speed cameras.

Baltimore City had shut down their speed camera program in 2013 after it was proven that cameras run under contract with their speed camera vendor Xerox State and Local Solutions were systematically producing faulty speed readings.  Among the cases of errors identified were large trucks cited for traveling at twice their actual speed and stationary vehicles cited for speeding.  Documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance proved that the city was aware of faulty speed readings for months before it became public knowledge, but had continued issuing tickets from those same cameras.  After an in depth investigation by the Baltimore Sun, the city and their vendor were forced to admit to the errors, claiming they were caused by what the company called "radar effects".  An internal city audit found that some speed cameras had error rates as high as ten percent, meaning that many thousands of erroneous tickets had been issued.

This was but one of many problems plaguing the city's old photo enforcement program.  In one instance, Baltimore Red Light Camera program was found to have issued 2000 citations "signed" by a deceased police officer.  Despite having been "approved" by someone who was not even alive at the time, documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance showed that Baltimore City never refunded those red light camera tickets and the city and their vendor kept the revenue.

After the disaster with the old Baltimore City program, Xerox recently spun off their camera division into a new company called "Conduent" in order to shed the stigma which the Xerox name had earned within the speed camera industry.  Conduent has now been selected to run the new red light camera program in Baltimore City.

Baltimore City had previous problems with vendor American Traffic Solutions as well.   In 2009, when Conduent was operating under the ownership of Affiliated Computer Services, the company filed a federal lawsuit against ATS for refusing to turn over red light camera equipment in Baltimore

In addition, Baltimore City will be bringing back the same company which calibrated the cameras which systematically produced erroneous speed readings: MRA Digital.  MRA Digital was awarded the "sole source" contract because it was stated that they were the only company in Maryland capable of calibrating the speed cameras as required.  MRA Digital was the same company which signed the speed camera calibration records for the devices which issued erroneous .  The Maryland Drivers Alliance requested speed camera calibration records for some cameras which had been proven to produce errors.  The calibration certificates signed by MRA digital president Heinz StubbleField for the very same camera which ticketed a stationary vehicle showed that the camera had "passed" all of MRA digital's tests.
Calibration Certificate for a speed camera which ticketed a stationary car in Baltimore City

Such calibration certificates are taken as absolute proof of the accuracy of equipment by District Court judges who hear speed camera cases, and motorists are generally not even permitted to use the same images used to incriminate them to dispute the recorded speeds if they do not support the speed reading.

Companies bidding for the contracts hired lobbyists to pressure City Hall and the DOT to restart the program.  For example ATS paid $20,000 to lobby city officials between February 22, 2016 to December 31, 2016 to help win their portion of the deal.

Another company, Hillman Communications, will be paid a $625,000 slice of the red light camera program to establish a "public information and outreach campaign" in order to help snow the people of Baltimore and Maryland into forgetting Conduent's part in the last failed program.  Speed camera programs have often times built massive PR and media campaigns to quell opposition to their programs, for example ACS (which eventually became part of Xerox/Conduent) promised to help plant favorable news stories in local media outlets for Montgomery County's speed camera program when they bid for that contract.

The city claims that this time the program will be run differently, and no doubt Conduent and MRA digital would claim they have resolved whatever problems they might have had.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance is of the opinion that motorists have no reason to believe this is true.  In fact, cameras operated by Xerox and calibrated by MRA digital continued to produce erroneous speed readings in other jurisdictions well after Baltimore City's speed camera program was Shut down.  In 2016, we reported that the City of Rockville, which used Xerox now Conduent as their vendor and used MRA digital to calibrate equipment, issued a speed camera ticket to a non-speeding school bus.  Records obtained from the city showed that they vendor had also voided several other tickets due to citation images showing "no progression" (ie no movement).  Baltimore County also used Xerox (now Conduent) and MRA digital, and in January of this year we reported that Baltimore County also had ticketed a stopped vehicle for speeding.  The Local Designee for Baltimore County's program admitted to us that their vendor had dismissed dozens of citations showing "no progression" (ie no movement) in the speed camera images.

If equipment calibrated by MRA digital can STILL claim that non-speeding and even NON MOVING vehicles are speeding, what is the basis for telling the public "if you don't speed you won't get a ticket" and for going into a court of law and claiming that the fact that a camera was "calibrated and tested" proves that you are guilty?  The basis for that claim is simple: the burden of proof under Maryland's speed camera law has been lowered to the point that you are presumed guilty and a motorist won't be able to dispute an erroneous speed reading unless by odd chance their vehicle was completely stationary.  Indeed, many involved in local speed camera programs in Maryland have tried rewriting history by claiming that the problems in Baltimore City consisted of just a handful of cases involving stationary cars, precisely so they could make that claim and deny errors involving vehicles that were moving but not speeding.  We believe residents of Baltimore City and Maryland should be concerned that the only lesson Baltimore City officials have learned may be that next time they should not admit it when errors take place so they can keep collecting the loot without interruption.

Additional Coverage:
TheNewPaper.com: Baltimore, Maryland restarts Faulty Speed Camera Program
Baltimore Sun: Baltimore to award nearly $10 million to two companies to restart speed, red light cameras
Baltimore Brew: Xerox subsidiary and Arizona firm set to operate speed camera program

Monday, March 27, 2017

Speed Limit Reduction Bill Advances

Do you believe your state lawmakers actually drive 20mph?

A bill which would allow Montgomery County to lower the speed limits on many roads to 20mph has passed the House of Delegates and approaching a vote in the State Senate.

House Bill 332 would allow Montgomery County to decrease the speed limit on any road "outside an urban district" to 20 miles per hour.  This would allow the county to set a different traffic engineering standard for speed limits than elsewhere in the state where this limit is 25mph.  The biggest practical effect of the legislation would be to allow lowering of speed limits on many roads from 25mph to 20mph where speed cameras can currently be used, but cannot be used PROFITABLY, turning more safe drivers into lawbreakers by lowering speed limits would make the cameras far more profitable.

The county delegation originally proposed two bills, one of which would allow lowering the speed limit with no traffic engineering justification at all to 20mph, the other which would permit lowering the speed limit on any road outside an urban district to 15mph.  The house delegation gave the first bill an "unfavorable" vote, but House bill 332 passed with an amendment to apply a 20mph limit rather than 15mph.  [See Environment and Committee Vote Here]  This change to the bill is of little consequence with respect to the impact on speed camera programs since 20mph is the lowest speed limit which can be enforced by a speed camera in Maryland, making it clear the real intent of this legislation is to expand the county's speed camera program by making it profitable to use speed cameras in locations where it is not currently profitable to do so with a 25mph speed limit.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Washington Post: Justice takes a turn for the worse with certain roadway cameras

Anyone who has been to traffic court knows the chances of beating a traffic-camera citation are slim to none. But those of us who appeared before Prince George’s District Court Judge Mark T. O’Brien a couple of weeks ago caught a rare break.

After noting that 90 percent of the cases that day involved right-turn-on-red citations, O’Brien announced to a nearly packed courtroom that he would reduce the $75 fines to $22.50 in court costs.

“The purpose of red-light cameras is to keep people from running through red lights, for obvious reasons,” O’Brien said. “But using them for right turns on red, I’m not so sure.”

Entire article at:

Our challenge to Montgomery County, Prince George's county, and the City of Rockville:  Deploy signs stating "Right Turn on Red AFTER STOP" at three of the six RLC locations with the highest red light running rates, and provide the results after six months.  If this photo enforcement policy is about safety, it would be irresponsible NOT to do this.