Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Riverdale Park Speed Camera Program Kicks Off and Fumbles

UPDATE!!!!!  Read about charges of FORGERY AND FRAUD by Riverdale Park's Speed Camera Program!!
Riverdale Park has now been issuing citations to drivers for over a month under their fledgling speed camera program. The town council voted to authorize the use of speed cameras on October25, then approved a contract with Optotraffic/Sigma Space on November 3rd.

Under the contract, Optotraffic is paid a 39.0% ($15.60) cut of each paid citation. The town hoped to circumvent the provision in state law which states “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” by spelling out that the city “operates” the cameras. The ‘don’t use the O word’ defense is the loophole which all of the other governments’ contracts which pay contingent fees rely on (this is being challenged in court in Montgomery County). Riverdale Park’s contract does not spell out what it means to “operate” these “highly automated unmanned” cameras. Optotraffic still owns the cameras, processes and mails violations from the cameras, and is responsible for ensuring that the machines annual calibration tests performed. It also seems unlikely that anyone other than Optotraffic would know how to perform all of the required maintenance on the devices, and we previously obtained photos of Optotraffic employees performing work on New Carrollton’s systems which are the same type and are under an extremely similar cont. However the ordinance which authorized the use of speed cameras in the town, which was passed several weeks before the contract was approved, contains a Freudian slip: “THE TOWN MAY CONTRACT WITH A SPEED MONITORING SYSTEM OPERATOR TO OPERATE A SPEED MONITORING SYSTEM IN THE TOWN”. OOPSIE!!

This same ordinance authorizing the cameras creates a long list of new school zones shown as the roads highlighted in pink in this map:
Each of these zones does fall within the ½ mile radius circles (shown above) around the specified schools which encompass most of Riverdale Park; although in the case of some of them the school is not adjacent to the selected roads. In the case of the school zone for William Wirt Middle School on SH201 the road only barely comes within 1/2mile for a short distance. Notice that low-traffic roads between this major highway and the school, even those directly around the school, were not designated as school zones by this ordinance. Such local roads would be used mostly by residents who can vote for town council members, rather than by out of town drivers who cannot.

Several of these roads are on state highways: Kennilworth Avenue(201) and East West Highway(410). The SHA has authority to designate school zones on state highways or approve the use of speed cameras there, according to SHA publications. A member of contacted the SHA and was told in a letter that the SHA had no record of school zones existing in the specified locations on SH201, or US1(which is also under SHA jurisdiction). Only one location on SH410 was a designated school zone according to the SHA and it was a much smaller area than the one called out in the Riverdale Park ordinance (highlighted in blue in the above map). As of early January the SHA was still waiting on information from Riverdale Park to consider their request.

The Riverdale Park contract called out the first location for the use of speed cameras to be 5415 Kenilworth Ave (which was apparently a previously designated red light camera location). However a Riverdale Park official has stated that they are currently using the cameras on Good Luck Road (a local road which did have a pre-existing school zone), so it appears that their plan to use them on these state highways was temporarily stalled. Under the contract locations can be changed every 15 or more days, but that “Optotraffic reserves the right to decline a request to change a service location which in Optotraffic’s opinion is technically or economically infeasible.

We’ve also been informed that Optotraffic has devised a mechanism to increase their ‘cut’ of each ticket: anyone paying the $40 fee through their online payment system will be billed an additional $3.50 service charge, essentially increasing the contractor’s cut to $19.10.