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.
In fiscal 2012, the camera program raked in more than $85 million, according to figures provided by the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer. That dropped a bit in fiscal 2013, to about $75 million, amid a debate over the expansion of the program and small adjustments to fine amounts and speed limits.
In fiscal 2014, which ended Sept. 30, the city took in less than $34 million.
When city financial officials warned about the precipitous drop-off in camera revenue in September, maintenance concerns never figured into city officials’ public explanations for the shortfall.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at the time that the revenue figures represented proof that the cameras were working to reduce speeding and red-light-running.  “This demonstrates that drivers are changing their behavior,” she said in a statement. “The fact that infractions are going down is a good thing in my view. Automated traffic enforcement is and always has been about safety.”
A spokeswoman for then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) cited delays in deploying some new enforcement devices and higher speed limits on some streets — but did not mention maintenance concerns.
So is the DC City government "truth challenged" when it comes to telling the public the facts about their speed camera program?

Additional Coverage
Washington Post: Broken traffic cameras contributed to massive revenue decline, D.C. police say
WAMU: Malfunctioning Traffic Cameras Help Fuel D.C. Budget Deficit
MyFoxDC:  Broken traffic enforcement cameras contributes to large drop in revenue for DC

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.

Under the bill, a new countywide mass transit tax would also be created.  The agency would also be authorized to borrow money by selling bonds.  The money from the new transit taxes would not be spent on motorist oriented projects, only mass transit projects would benefit from it.

New Agency Would Be Exempt From County Charter = Higher Property Tax Bills
In 2008, Montgomery County voters passed a charter amendment by referendum which required a unanimous vote by the county council.  The legislation, if passed would permit the county to circumvent the county charter in order to evade limits on property tax hikes: "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.  Yes that's right, the bill explicitly states that the new county agency is exempt from the county's own charter.

The new agency's officials would be appointed by the County Executive.  Among their powers would be the ability to exercise eminent domain to acquire property for transit projects.

Montgomery County's mass transit programs have come under scrutiny after the new Silver Spring Transit Center encountered huge cost overruns.  Some of the county's proposed future transit plans have included the creation of a network of Bus-only lanes which would in some areas may require either narrowing lanes for motorists or taking a lane away completely.

A Massive Power Grab?  Backroom Deals?
There is a petition on Change.Org opposing the bill.  A Facebook page and a Blog opposing the bill ( has also appeared, which urges residents to  "Stop The Back Room MontCo Transit Authority Deal, " asserting that it is a"developer giveaway" and that interests which contributed to the county executive and council members' campaigns will benefit from it.

Most County bills are included in public hearings in December, prior to the start of the General Assembly session.  However this bill was submitted seven weeks after the normal deadline for county bills, at Ike Leggett's request.

The vote by members of the delegation to submit legislation circumventing provisions of the county charter regarding property tax increases was as follows:

Limited Time For Public To Weigh In
A hearing for the bill, designated by the delegation as MC 24-15, is scheduled for Friday January 30, 3rd Floor Hearing Room, Stella Werner Council Office Bldg., 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD
6:00 p.m..  The hearing was hastily put together, with less than the normal time for public notice, due to the lateness of the bill's submission. Individuals who wish to comment on this new tax plan can sign up to testify at the Montgomery County Delegation website.   Contact information for the members of the Montgomery County Delegation can be found on the delegation's Contact Page.

The bill has been submitted to the House of Delegates as HB104, and will need to be approved by the Members of the Ways and Means Committee and the Members of the Environment and Transportation Committee before passage.

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 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.

Prior to 2014, State Farm did not increase insurance premiums when a "not at fault" automobile insurance claim was filed.  This meant that customers could submit claims for losses covered under the "comprehensive" section of their State Farm automobile insurance policy without incurring a premium increase.   For example, if a customer made a claim due to auto theft, hail storm damage, or striking a deer (all of which are covered by the comprehensive section of a policy), State Farm would not increase their rates.  "Uninsured motorist" claims, another example of "not at fault" claims, also did not cause customers' premiums to increase prior to 2014.

In 2014, State Farm quietly filed a rate change notice with the MIA to allow premiums to increase when "not at fault" claims were submitted.  Under Maryland law, State Farm was required to notify customers of their right to protest the rate increase.   According to the MIA, State Farm began billing customers based on the rate increase and simultaneously notified customers of their right to protest the rate increase.  However, the "right of protest" notification lacked certain details that are required under state law.  Since the notification did not conform to state law, the MIA has ordered State Farm to refund all premium increases that were charged for "not at fault" claims.

In addition to being ordered to refund the premium increases, the MIA is assessing a significant penalty to State Farm for failing to withdraw their rate increase request after being notified that they were not in compliance with state law.

State Farm customers whose premiums were increased due to a "not at fault" claim can expect a refund (with interest) or a credit to their next bill (with interest) in the next several months.

State Farm has the option of submitting another premium change request to the MIA and issuing corrected "right of protest" notices, but any premium increase can be applied only to future premiums, and cannot be recovered by State Farm retroactively. 

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.

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.