Thursday, December 17, 2015

College Park Speed Camera Ticketed Stopped Bus

College Park issued erroneous speed camera citations, including one issued to a non-moving bus, according to documents obtained from the city under the Public Information Act.

Stopped UMD Shuttle Bus Ticketed By Speed Camera
In a long delayed response to a request for documents pertaining to speed camera errors, college park produced a cache of emails including (heavily redacted) correspondence about a “UM Shuttle” which had been erroneously ticketed by a College Park Speed Camera while it was not moving.  An individual who was apparently manager of the shuttle buses wrote “The photos purportedly show the bus moving at 38mph but it is clearly stopped at the light at Calvert Rd.  The two pictures were taken .5 sec apart and at 38MPH, the bus should have moved a little over 27 feet.”  The buses apparently used a gps fleet management system called “Nextbus”  (something most motorists would not be lucky enough to have data from.  “Nextbus will show a GPS 'ping' periodically during the bus's travel and the closest one to that point shows it approaching the light at Calvert road going 14.9mph.  I ran a report for the entire driver's shift, and he never went over about 32mph which is consistent with that driver.”  The individual referred to the local designee by his first name (Bob).


“This citation will be dismissed” wrote the local designee in response to UM shuttle complaint.

College Park Ticketed Wrong Vehicles
In another case, College Park ticketed a motorist for a vehicle which was not even theirs, according to a heavily redacted letter produced by the city.

Significant portions of the conversation were entirely redacted by College Park from the obtained correspondence.

A report provided by College Park acknowledged that one speed camera issued citations to 23 where "registration plate does NOT match registration plate issued for motor vehicle" (ie the wrong vehicle was cited), while at another camera seven irrefutably erroneous tickets to incorrect vehicles were documented.

College Park “Ombudsman” relied on Optotraffic for Citation Reviews
State law forbids a speed camera contractor from serving the role as “Local designee”, the individual nominally responsible for reviewing citations.    Despite this fact, College Park has relied on their contractor, Optotraffic, to review citations which were claimed to be errors.  In the case above, the citations were forwarded to Optotraffic Employee Anjenette Criner for review.  In this case it was on Optotraffic's acknowledgement of an irrefutable error that resulted in the ticket being confirmed as an error:


College Park received several other complaints about incorrect speed.  However these complaints were not from someone who runs shuttle buses for the University of Maryland or who was on a first name basis with the Local Designee.  Correspondence between College Park and Optotraffic showed that such complaints were routinely referred to Optotraffic for review.

There's no indication that Optotraffic made any effort to verify claims of erroneous speed measurements using citation images or time-distance calculations, relying only on the fact that Optotraffic's proprietary equipment passed their proprietary Optotraffic defined internal checks.

Baltimore City was forced to shut their speed camera down after irrefutable evidence of citations based on erroneous speed measurements became public, and those errors occurred despite the fact that the equipment passed all calibration checks.  Baltimore City's contractors lost a contract worth millions of dollars per year as a result of acknowledging erroneous speed measurements.  Allegations of erroneous speed measurements from College Park cameras were made in the past, and the Town of Cheverly complained of errors produced by Optotraffic cameras including a bicycle photographed at a claimed speed of 57mph.  Optotraffic has in the past denied their equipment has produced erroneous tickets.

Erroneous Tickets Tossed in Court
Several Motorists were successful at disputing erroneous citations in Prince George's District Court.  On September 16, correspondence shows that four tickets were tossed by the court in a single day. In one case it was clear that the cited vehicle did not even belong to the cited driver.
On August 20, two other citations were tossed by the district court.  Under state law, College Park is not required to count tickets tossed by the court as “Erroneous violations”, the city has sole power to decide what is and is not “erroneous”.

Long Delay In Obtaining Records on Speed Camera Errors
Documents pertaining to speed camera errors were initially requested from the City of College Park's “ombudsman” in July of 2015.  On September 18 (almost two months after the original request), we were told by the Local Designee "We are working on compiling the information in response to your request. I should be able to send it to you within the next couple of weeks.",  This did not happen however. So on October 1 we resubmitted our request as a formal Maryland Public Information Act request, citing new provision of the MPIA enacted this year, and asked for additional documents.  Despite being told that our already overdue request would be expedited, it still required an additional 30 days and a demand for a significant fee before the city produced the requested documents.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Insurance Company AAA Actively Promotes Speed Cameras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fact is AAA is just another insurance company which happens to sell vacation packages and amusement park tickets.  They simply occasionally use speed cameras for PR and as a way from distracting their members in other parts of the US from their vastly inconsistent lobbying positions on motorist rights.  The reality is they are a big part of the reason Maryland has speed cameras today.  Motorists who want an organization which will consistently fight to defend motorist rights should dump AAA and join the National Motorists Association.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Montgomery County Provides Speed Camera Error Records After Months Of Delays

Portion of Acknowledged Speed Camera Errors in FY15
Montgomery County has produced records of dozens of erroneous speed camera errors which they had previously claimed to have no records of, months after our original request for the documents.

Months of Delays Getting Error Records
A public records request was originally placed with Montgomery County on June 22 for a number of documents pertaining to speed camera errors and voided citations. While Montgomery County produced some of the records on July 30 of this year --- which was not within the 30 day time period allowable by state law -- the disclosure did not include records of voided citations during the requested time period. We repeated our request to the county on August 3rd, pointing out that we has requested records of voided citations and that this was not included.

On August 21, the county responded with a few examples of correspondence about a small number of citations which had been voided by the county's “Local Designee”. However we were aware that this was only a small subset of the erroneous citations that had been issued.  In the county's August disclosure they stated “Montgomery County Does Not Keep Track of administratively voided citations that were voided due to the discretion of the Montgomery County Service Representative”. We responded that this was impossible for a number of reasons, not the least of which because this would be a violation of a statutory requirement to provide a report of the number of citations voided due to errors to the state, not to mention the fact that this would fly in the face of everything we knew about how an information technology system of the sort that manages their citations would normally be run.

Finally, in a letter dated September 28th (three months after our original request), Montgomery County produced additional records that had been excluded from the August disclosure, proving that the prior disclosures were in fact incomplete.



Some Citations Due to Employee Error Not Voided Until After Our Inquiries
The document provided showed that the largest number of voided citations were the result of batches of voids due labeled as "Co Employee Error". One batch of citations from a camera at 1000 Block of Quince Orchard Road on January 31, 2015 -- for which no specific cause of the error was cited -- were responsible for 35 erroneous citations. Most of these citations were voided in February, however two of these were not voided until September 24.... which is after The Maryland Drivers Alliance had requested the information about voided citations for the third time. Likewise, another batch of citations which we previously reported on, was issued from a camera on 10700 Block of River Road between March 19 and March 21. Again we note that while most of these citations were voided in April, two of these were not voided until August 11... after we had asked for records about erroneous citations at this specific location for a second time. It is our opinion that those particular citations might not have been voided had The Maryland Drivers Alliance not insisted on access to these records.

“Ombudsman” Not Responsible For Correcting Most Errors
An amendment to state law created a position called the "Local Designee" who is tasked with reviewing complaints about citations and which was claimed by proponents of the change who support speed cameras to be an "ombudsman" that would void erroneous citations.  Of the voided citations which were obvious enough that the county's program could not deny their existence, less than nine percent of those in the report were actually voided by the "ombudsman".  The list we were provided showed that the Local Designee acknowledged only 11 errors. 20 of the acknowledged errors were listed as being the result of either an “ERRONEOUS—VENDOR” (meaning that it was actually the speed camera contractor who voided them).

Montgomery County's "ombudsman" is actually the deputy Director of the Traffic Division, an individual who is the second in command to Captain Tom Didone (head of the speed camera program).  Montgomery County has disavowed the use of the term "ombudsman" to describe the local designee, in writing, several times, despite having used that term while testifying to the legislature for the creation of this role as a way of avoiding stronger measures such as audits and requiring nationally recognized testing standards for equipment that were supported by other lawmakers.

The county did receive additional complaints claiming errors, and other individuals have disputed citations in court, however the county only confirmed the existence of those listed here. In particular, the only type of error which the local designee acknowledged the existence of were those where the incorrect vehicle was cited.



In one case that we previously reported on, a motorist complained about a citation to the Local Designee who stated that the citation was valid, however in fact that particular citation had already been identified as being due to a “processing error” where the device was improperly configured, and the Local Designee had not detected that error. The Maryland Drivers Alliance submitted a question to the local designee regarding how this was possible, but the Local Designee never responded to that question after several months and several inquiries from us.  State law REQUIRES the Local Designee to provide a written response to questions and concerns, however the Local Designee has yet to provide responses to these questions after several months. The Maryland Drivers Alliance submitted a complaint about this lack of response from the Local Designee to Montgomery County, which was also not responded to.

Even the data provided by the County in this disclosure contains apparent errors.  For example, one citation was listed as being voided on 10/21/2015.... weeks after the date of the disclosure.

Given previous incomplete disclosures, we have no way of knowing whether this is the complete set of erroneous citations the county.  State law specifically says that any citations voided by a court are not considered "errors" -- giving the county and their vendor a monopoly over the ability to decide what constitutes an error and what is not.  For example, in 2009-2009, Montgomery County systematically issued many citations on days when there was no record of legally required calibration tests being performed and when operators for the equipment were not on duty, but these citations were not voided or refunded.

If you have received a citation you believe  may be an error, or if you have been notified that a citation was voided due to an error, please Contact the Maryland Drivers Alliance.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wicomico County to End Speed Camera Contract

Wicomico County will not renew its speed camera contract, according to an article in DelmarvaNow.com.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver said that the county contract with Redspeed will not be renewed after it expires in December.  According to DelmarvaNow:
"Culver said drivers have changed their habits and the Wicomico County cameras are no longer making money like they used to. The money that came in would go toward public safety, he said." 
Wicomico's program was far smaller than speed camera programs run by more populous jurisdictions such as Montgomery, Prince George's, or Howard County.   Monthly revenues from the program peaked in the summer of 2013.  But by FY2015-2016 revenues had shriveled up to the point where the county only projected to bring in $35,000 for the year, according to the county budget.

Wicomoco County began their program in 2012.  A 2014 audit off the program showed that ticket revenues showed a marked, unexplained increase in the summer of 2013.  In November of 2013, the vendor issued a refund from a number of citations after a number of local school teachers claimed to have received erroneous citations.  Redspeed provided the following explanation for that refund:

Wicomico's contract with Redspeed was originally a per-ticket arrangement commonly referred to as a "bounty system".   The 2014 audit revealed that the this arrangement was changed in 2013 to avoid "the appearance of a bounty system".   However in fact what they did was merely break the single per-ticket fee into four separate per-ticket fee, meaning that they were paying the vendor exactly the same amount per ticket after the change and were still paying based on ticket volume regardless of the "appearance" they were attempting to present.


While the county is set to end their program for now, they are reserving the right to bring them back in the future.  Meanwhile the City of Salisbury will continue using speed cameras.  Salisbury's cameras, unlike Wicomico's, have been bringing in revenue.  Salisbury reported to have generated $768,000 from speed cameras in the last fiscal year, according to WBOC.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Traffic Ticket Troubles For Montgomery County Council Member

A Montgomery County lawmaker found himself on the wrong side of the law yet again, as Maryland court records show that Council member Craig Rice received two traffic tickets this past August.
 

In December 2013, it was reported that Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice had run up over $1000 worth of unpaid traffic and parking tickets before being confronted by the press.   Mr Rice was apparently cited for traffic violations yet again this summer, when court records show that Mr Rice received citations for speeding and “changing lanes when unsafe”while in Ocean City Maryland on August 13.

The court records show that Mr Rice plead guilty to driving 50mph in a 35mph zone, more than 40% over the legally posted speed limit.

Council Member Craig Rice:
Chronic Traffic Violator and Hypocrite
At the time when WJLA confronted Mr Rice about unpaid traffic citations in 2013, DC's traffic violation system showed citations for a speed camera ticket and parking fines, which he paid after being confronted by reporters.  According to Maryland Court records, Mr Rice had previously received citations for "EXCEEDING MAXIMUM SPEED: 44 MPH IN A POSTED 35 MPH ZONE' in 2012, and a " FAILURE TO OBEY PROPERLY PLACED TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICE INSTRUCTIONS" in 2013, as well as 2 prior traffic violations from 2011 which have since been purged from the court system.

Mr Rice had also caught flack for illegal parking in DC back in 2009.

Mr Rice has been a supporter of Montgomery County's automated traffic enforcement program.  Council Member Rice has repeatedly refused to respond to questions from the editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website (who is a resident of his district) about the county's program.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Elephant In the Room on Regional Traffic: New Potomac River Crossing Off The Table for Maryland

Transportation Planners in Maryland and Virginia continue to be at odds about the prospect of a new Potomac River Crossing.  Leaders in Virginia have long been calling for a new bridge, however officials in Maryland and particularly Montgomery County have kept this off the table.

Virginia has again been looking closely at the issue, claiming that a new bridge is necessary to support future economic growth and address traffic concerns.  But Montgomery County officials and many residents have claimed that a new crossing would increase sprawl.  From Virginia's perspective their hands are largely tied, since Maryland and DC actually own the river.  As past efforts to open a dialog with Maryland about a new crossing have gone nowhere, Virginia is now looking at the possibility of extending the I-495 express lanes over the American Legion Bridge as a possible alternative solution.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has been particularly cold to the idea of any new river crossing.  In September 2014 Leggett was asked in an online discussion about a Potomac River Crossing, Leggett acknowledged the problems caused by the region's ever worsening traffic congestion but stated “The question whether a second bridge will seriously alleviate these concerns without impacting our environment and agricultural reserve has been deemed to be not worthy of the tremendous risk.”  In a December 2014 discussion, Leggett was asked about a Potomac River Crossing and responded  “The idea of a bridge crossing the Potomac River through Montgomery County to Virginia has been debated for decades, and ultimately it was decided not to build it. The view is that such a bridge would destroy our Agricultural Reserve, which is one of the features of our County of which I'm most proud."  And in April 2015, when a resident complained about the cost of the purple line and Silver Spring Transit Center suggested  that the priority should be a new bridge into NoVa, Leggett declined to even address the idea of a new bridge at all, and instead said the solution is to spend more on transit.

Of course in reality elected officials in Montgomery County do not consider transit to be a solution to their own transportation needs.  Neither County Executive Ike Leggett nor any members of the County Council take transit to work.

So why is this such a big deal?  Well, right now it is a bare minimum of 35 miles driving distance, or a minimum of 48 minutes driving time, between the American Legion Bridge and the next river crossing to the north at Point of Rocks on the Maryland side, or 43 miles on the Virginia side of the river.

This means that anyone trying to get from Montgomery County or Prince George's County into any point in Virginia must cross the same single bridge, no other viable option exists without adding at least 35 miles to the trip.  The result of this is known to anyone who commutes south on I-270... even if they don't actually cross the river themselves they must still confront almost daily traffic backups which on a bad day can extend all the way into Frederick County.

As bad as the scarcity of river crossings is for Virginia and Maryland motorists, the situation is EVEN WORSE for transit users.  A commuter trying to take metro from Gaithersburg to Reston is in for an over two hour ride, since one must transit all the way to the center of DC to change from the red line to the Silver line (that is assuming you are both starting and ending somewhere transit actually goes).  And without additional river crossing there is virtually nothing that can be done to improve the situation for transit users in suburban Maryland and VA who must cross the river, since the funny thing about buses and trains is that they can't swim.

So what do you think?

Do Maryland and Virginia need a new Potomac River Crossing west of the American Legion Bridge?

(Note: poll results may take up to 1 minute to update)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Four good reasons why you should always request a trial for a speed camera citation

Motorists in Maryland who receive a speed camera citation have the option of requesting a trial.   Most motorists don't request a trial and simply pay the $40 fine.  However, there are several good reasons to ALWAYS request a trial, even if you think that you might decide to just pay the fine before trial.

  • Requesting a trial forces the county (or city) that issued the citation to create an evidence package.  As we saw with the Baltimore camera scandal, citation evidence can often be erroneous.  During creation of the evidence package, the citation is  sometimes "administratively voided" and you never even have to appear in court.  Conversely, if you pay the citation without requesting a trial, no further review of the citation is performed.  In other words, if you don't request a trial, you lose $40 even if you did nothing wrong.
     
  • If you go to trial and win, you save $40.   The county (or city) gets nothing. 

  • If you go to trial and lose, you lose around $30 to $45, depending on the amount of the fine that the judge decides to assess.  (The judges usually reduce the fine enough to offset most or all of the court costs that are charged in addition to the fine.)   But even if you lose, the county (or city) gets nothing.  Under state law, the District Court retains the entire fine and court costs to cover the cost of operation.   You read it right:  When you go to court, the county (or city) that issued the citation gets nothing for their effort, even if you lose the case.   We confirmed this with the Administrative Clerk of the District Court.

  • When you appear for a trial, you are helping to maintain justice in the USA.  Remember:  Pleading "not guilty" simply means that you want to exercise your constitutional right to a trial. 

If you request a trial and decide later to pay the citation without appearing in court, you can still pay the $40 fine without incurring any penalty, as long as you pay it before the court date.   Since court dates are usually set at least one month in advance of a trial, you get an extra month to think about what to do about your case.  And if money is tight, you get an extra month to pay the citation, if you decide to do so.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Insurance Industry Proves Accident Rates Declined Equally With or Without Speed Cameras

An Insurance Industry Group is claiming that a study on Montgomery County's speed camera program shows the benefits of speed cameras, even though that study found no difference in accident rate reductions on roads where speed cameras were added compared to roads in a control group without speed cameras.

The study by the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS) compared roads in Montgomery County eligible for speed cameras (generally roads with speed limits of up to 35mph) to a set of roads in Fairfax County with comparable speed limits (25-35mph).

The study also wanted to prove the existence of "spillover effects", by comparing a set of roads in Montgomery County with 40mph speed limits to a set of roads in Fairfax County with comparable speed limits.  Data from 2004 through 2013 was examined.

Speed Camera Roads No Better Than Control Group On Accident Rate Improvements
The study showed that accidents rates declined by almost exactly the same amount in ALL FOUR groups from 2004 to 2013, both in the categories with speed cameras and without them.  The percentage decline in accidents was the same in the Montgomery County roads with speed cameras to Montgomery County roads without speed cameras, and was also equal to the decline in accidents in both categories of roads in Fairfax County where speed cameras are not allowed.
Raw Data from IIHS report
Annual Reported Accidents as a percentage of Baseline Year Rate


Speed Cameras May Actually Have Been Worse Than Nothing
It is worth noting that overall accident rates in the study declined between 2004 and 2006 at a similar rate to subsequent years even though Montgomery County's speed camera program was not even in effect until mid 2007.  This had the effect of allowing the IIHS to attribute declines in accident rates to speed cameras which took place before the cameras were deployed.  Had 2006 been used as the baseline year rather than 2004, the result would have been that Fairfax County roads would have seen a larger decline in accidents than Montgomery County.

Comparing the average accident rates from 2004-2006 to accident rates from all of 2008-20013 would have shown that Montgomery County roads fared 5.8% worse than Fairfax County: Accident rates on speed camera roads declined by 21.1% compared to a 26.9% decline on non speed camera roads in Fairfax county.  The "potential spillover" roads in Montgomery County also showed worse results than the control group in Fairfax, with 40mph roads in Montgomery seeing a 12% decline compared to a larger 17% decline on 40mph Fairfax county roads.
Percentage Decline In Accidents before/after 2007; roads in Fairfax County saw a larger decline than Montgomery

The decline in accidents overall is not surprising given that there was a NATIONWIDE 21% decline in traffic fatalities between 2005 and 2009, largely attributed to safety improvements in vehicles such as anti-lock brakes.  Americas roads are in generally substantially safer than they were in 2004, despite the fact that only a 15 states use speed cameras at all, and most states which permit them use them in far fewer locations than Maryland.

The fact that accident rates had improved no more in Montgomery County with speed cameras than in Fairfax County without them was completely left out of the press reports which they provided to media organizations.

Study Made No Effort to Consider Alternative Solutions 
The IIHS study specifically excluded roads from the "control group" where alternative traffic calming measures were applied with at least one Fairfax County road where speed bumps had been added excluded.  Thus no comparison between the use of speed cameras to the application of traffic calming measures was attempted by the study.

The IIHS study concluded that average traffic speeds declined on roads in the study where speed cameras were used, but this effect is comparable to speed reductions which other studies have found to be produced by alternative traffic calming measures such as "radar speed display signs" which do not issue citations.

(Radar speed display sign study links:
http://trrjournalonline.trb.org/doi/abs/10.3141/1973-06
http://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/Transportation/2005_Radar_Report.pdf
http://www.westerntransportationinstitute.org/documents/reports/4W2174_RadarWarrants_FinalReport_2011-04-07.pdf
)

And while the study had attempted to prove the presence of "spillover" reductions in traffic speed, no significant effect was observed.  Average traffic speeds declined only 4% on non-speed camera roads in Montgomery, an amount easily attributable to increasing traffic congestion over the past ten years, with comparable roads in Fairfax County showing a 3% decrease in speeds.

The IIHS study also included a push poll survey which concluded that the majority of Montgomery County residents support speed cameras.  However the actual most common response was actually non-participation, since only 9% of those called actually completed the IIHS's survey.  The results from the IIHS poll seem markedly different from the results of a poll conducted by WTOP in 2012 where 64% of DC area respondents believed the primary role of speed and red light cameras is to generate revenue.

IIHS Made No Effort To Examine Possible Negatives of Cameras 
The study by the IIHS, a group which represents the insurance industry, made no effort to examine whether there were any complaints, concerns, or problems with  Montgomery County's program.  As such it seemed to ignore the possibility that any legitimate issues of fairness, integrity, profiteering, or other concerns might exist.  Among the issues NOT examined by the IIHS study:
  • Montgomery County invented the "Bounty system" (paying contractors a cut of each citation), and they still have a bounty system today despite promises by lawmakers to "end the bounty system", and despite having a clause in their contract that would let them switch from a bounty system to a flat fee.
  • The Montgomery County ATEU has a STATED preference for conducting secret meetings.  Even their so called "citizens advisory board" meets in secret, keeps no minutes, and gives no public notice of meetings.
  • Local speed camera programs, including Montgomery County, issue erroneous speed camera tickets on a regular basis.  Elsewhere in Maryland, Baltimore City's program was shut down when it was revealed they had issued thousands of erroneous citations because of false speed readings due to "radar effects".  Why did the IIHS not examine Baltimore's utterly failed program, which was run by the same contractor which runs Montgomery County's?
  • They ticket people who were not the driver, and Montgomery County has fought with every means they have to keep the burden of proof on the accused in such cases.
  • They have adopted speed cameras as the first choice for every traffic safety problem, to the exclusion of other traffic engineering solutions.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
  • Defendants have been denied the right to confront their accuser in court, even those who requested the camera operator testify. 
Supporters of speed cameras call Montgomery County a "model program".  In  our opinion, the problem is that this may be true.  When Montgomery County breaks promises made to the public other jurisdictions follow suit and double down on it.

Insurance Industry: Put Your Money Where Their Mouth Is
The correct conclusion from the IIHS study should be that our roads are getting much safer without speed cameras, and that better alternatives exist for controlling speeds where that is needed.  The lack of examination for possible negatives of speed cameras proves that the insurance industry does not care about and integrity of our justice system.  Unfortunately the Insurance Industry believes that it is in their financial interest to diminish people's legal rights such that people accused of traffic violations are presumed guilty and have no defense -- even to the point where individuals can be accused and found guilty of offenses that happened when they were not even present.  And while the insurance industry advocates for the use of speed cameras, jurisdictions such as Maryland and DC which have adopted them in far greater proportions than the rest of the US pay much more for insurance than the national average.  Maryland and DC are the 11th and 3rd most expensive locations for auto insurance respectively.  A fair answer to the IIHS's conclusions would be that the auto insurance industry should put their money where their mouth is and lower Maryland's insurance rates.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Montgomery Never Voided Tickets Issued With Skipped Calibration Tests

For several years, Montgomery County routinely issued speed camera citations on days where a basic requirement of the law for daily calibration logs was not met, yet refunds were never issued after this fact was disclosed.

We previously reported in 2010 that Montgomery County did not have daily setup logs for numerous days where citations were issued for many of their speed cameras. State law required the following:

"(3) A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that:
(i) States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer–specified self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;
(ii) Shall be kept on file; and
(iii) Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section."

We had hoped that Montgomery County would do the right thing and refund citations which had been issued when this basic calibration requirement – a requirement intended to protect the public from faulty speed cameras readings – was not met. However that never happened, and Montgomery County instead chose to keep the loot.
Sure enough the documents provided showed that NONE of the dates we requested in 2009 or 2010 had actual daily setup logs which met this requirement.  This included a date in September four months after our report on this issue and after the Washington Examiner reported this issue.... a time period which should have been more than adequate for Montgomery County to change their procedures.

When the press first discovered this fact, the county's reaction was one of total contempt for the law. Captain John Damesky, who headed the county's speed camera program at the time, responded to the Washington Examiner "We're not going to do this [test] every day. We're just not going to do that." --- denying that the county had an obligation to meet the clear wording of state law.  Montgomery County did eventually change their practices regarding how these calibration tests were performed, but only many months after the press became aware of the issue.  The dates when lapses were detected were primarily on weekends and holidays (since Montgomery County issues citations 24/7 at locations which are not inside school zones) but at the time it appears no speed camera operators were on duty to run required tests and fill out required logs.  

To follow up on this issue in June of 2015, a public information act request was sent to Montgomery County by a supporter of this site requested daily calibration logs for one camera located near Olney at 19600 Georgia Avenue northbound on the following dates: 9/6/2009, 10/31/2009, 11/28/2009, 12/27/2009, 1/3/2009, 1/03/2009, 1/31/2009, 2/14/2010, 4/3/2010, 5/30/2010, 9/5/2010, 5/18/2013. The requested dates included weekends when we were aware Montgomery County was issuing citations, but when we suspected they did not have speed camera operator on duty to meet that statutory requirement.  One more recent date in 2013 was included in the request for comparison purposes.

 Instead the county provided start-and-end calibration logs from other dates revealing that there were gaps in the calibration logs of several days.
Date Requested
Start Date of Log Provided
End Date of Log Provided
Gap in days
# Citations Issued on Date
9/6/20099/5/20099/8/20093112
10/31/200910/30/200911/03/2009415
11/28/200911/27/200911/30/2014360
12/27/200912/24/200912/28/2014463
1/3/200912/31/20091/4/2010437
1/31/20091/29/20102/1/2010321
2/14/20102/13/20102/16/2010329
4/3/20104/2/20104/5/2010340
5/30/20105/28/20106/1/2010477
9/5/20109/3/20109/7/20104(ie NOT "daily")44
5/18/20135/17/20135/18/20131 (ie "daily")40

The public information act also include a request for records showing how many of the citations issued were refunded or voided. The county responded to this that portion of the request “There has been no administrative voiding or refunding on the referenced dates above”.
In addition to having logs for numerous days missing, many of the logs showed that the "operator" had "signed" to having performed a step in the setup procedure which was BLANK on the logs.  This apparent error existed in daily setup logs day after day, month after month, FOR YEARS, yet thousands of citations were approved for cameras with these defective logs without question.  The cameras were simply assumed to be in perfect working order, even though the logs themselves were not.

Other local governments have issued refunds for citations where annual calibration requirements were not met.  However Montgomery County went to court, at taxpayer expense, to support the principal that a speed camera program could not be sued for the refund of speed camera tickets that have already paid, regardless of the reason. As such, it currently appears that when it comes to a SYSTEMATIC issue with Montgomery County's speed camera, the rule they follow is “Once you have their money, never give it back”. The addition of a so called “Ombudsman” to Montgomery County's program (a term they have since rejected as describing the program's “Local Designee”), has not changed this at all, since it did not result in refunds for this potentially very large number of illegally issued citations.

Montgomery County may have succeeded in getting the legislature to write them a free pass on similar issues that may occur in the future.  In 2014, under the guise of “reform” to the system, the legislature passed a change to state law which modified the wording of the requirement for daily setup logs to instead say “(3)   A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that: (i)   States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed or reviewed and evaluated the manufacturer–specified daily self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;”.   This seemingly minor change removes the requirement that the person signing the logs actually perform the test, or witness that it actually took place.  This not only permits an additional level of “hearsay evidence” to be used against defendants in speed camera hearings, since the operators could testify to the results of tests which were performed when they were not even on duty.  Thus a local government could argue this change makes it legal to have one single "operator" push a button from a remote location to electronically "sign" all logs for a day without ever observing the camera itself. The legislation which enacted this change was part of the “speed camera reform act of 2014”, which was written by a speed camera reform legislative work group whose meetings included at least three members of Montgomery County's automated traffic division; opponents of speed cameras were not invited.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Montgomery County Finally Acknowledges "Processing Errors"

More than three months after we originally asked Montgomery County to explain the cause of "processing errors" reported to us by motorists, Montgomery County has finally acknowledge that the case was not isolated to a single citation and that in fact 123 alleged speed camera violations needed to be voided after a speed camera located on River Road was improperly configured.

The incident was first reported to us by a motorist who had requested that Montgomery County's "Local Designee" review a citation she had received on a day in March 2015 when her car was nowhere near Montgomery County. The Local Designee declared the citation was legitimate.   However a few days later, that motorist received a form letter void notice for the citation, which was dated EARLIER than the local designee's response.

On April 23, we asked Montgomery County's "Local Designee" to provide an explanation for the cause of the processing error.  This was not answered.  On June 5 we repeatedly asked the local designee to explain the cause of the processing errors, among other questions, but the Local Designee never provided a response to that, despite a legal requirement that the local designee respond to questions or concerns "withing a reasonable period of time" according to state law.

On June 22 we sent Montgomery County a public information request for records about voided citations, including .  On July 30, 8 days after the legally required time limit for responding to public information act requests, the county sent a response that confirmed 123 violations needed to be voided from March 28 through March 31, when a camera had been improperly configured.  "GM All, Per our conversation on Wednesday all events n March28 to March 31 will need to be voided due to tech entering wrong date (123 violations)." stated an email provided by the MCPD.  Daily setup logs from March 18-April 1 were also part of the request, but no calibration logs dated 3/28, 3/29, or 3/30 were included in the responsive documents.

However our MPIA request had actually been for records of all voided citations from March 18 to the date of our request, and the county ONLY provided records pertaining to this single event.  We have received information that other citations were voided in this time period, and informed the MCPD that we considered their response incomplete for that reason --- and have requested that they also provide records of voided "processing errors" which they did not already know we were aware of.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

College Park Speed Camera Revenues Surge

Excerpt of revenues from College Park budget
The City of College Park's gross speed camera revenues increase by more than a million dollars over the previous year's level, according to the city budget.

In FY2014, College Park had brought in $1,529,721 in speed camera funds.  The city had budgeted $1,600,000 for FY2015, but announced actual revenues of $2,695,065 in FY15 in the city's requested budget for FY16.  This amounts to a 76% increase in revenues in a single year.

This money is divided between the city and their contractor, Optotraffic, who receives a percentage-cut bounty off of camera revenues.  Optotraffic saw their piece of the action increase from $596,591 in FY14 to $1,051,075 in FY15.

The revenue increase was due to the the fact that Speed limits on a portion of Rhode Island Avenue were lowered by 5 mph and the city deployed three new speed cameras.   College Park also began issuing citations 24/7 and on weekends due to a specific exception which permits them to run speed cameras outside school zones.

The city's total general fund revenues were reported to be $13,507,069.  The city's $1,643,990 cut of speed camera ticket revenues constitutes approximately 12% the amount of general fund revenues.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Montgomery County ATEU Defends Culture of Secrecy

The Montgomery County Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit (ATEU) has vigorously objected to criticisms that the program lacks transparency.
These criticisms were raised by a report published by a Speed Camera Task force instituted by the Greater Olney Civic Association.  This report made several observations and recommendation regarding the county's speed camera program, and may be the closest thing to an independent review of the program that has ever taken place,

The GOCA report noted that "Olney Speed Limits were lowered prior to introduction of Speed Cameras", and noted the high proportion of speed camera citations issued in and around Olney relative to the rest of the county.  However most of the task force recommendations revolved around issues of transparency.

Citizens Advisory Board Closed To Citizens
The GOCA task force raised objections regarding a "Citizens Advisory Board on Traffic Issues" (CAB-TI) which reportedly reviews and affirms new speed camera locations.  The task force noted that there is no documentation as to how the CAB-TI members are selected.  The task force noted that the only way to contact the CAB-TI is by requesting a new speed camera location, there is no documented way to object to a speed camera location or provide any sort of public input or complaint.

There has not been an attempt to appoint a CAB-TI with balanced views of the camera program; instead, the members appear to be strongly pro-camera, consistent with the views of the ATEU itself.  In discussion, the CAB-TI representative informed the Task Force that it could recollect objecting to only one camera placement during the tenure of the current CAB-TI.  

The ATEU also had an Ombudsman position in the period leading up to 2014.   The Task Force expected the Ombudsman to be a liaison between the community and the camera program, representing concerns of the community and individual citizens with the program, individual citation
problems, etc.  However, the Task Force found the original Ombudsman to be a full-time County employee in the ATEU, specifically a ATEU contracting official on the Xerox camera contract.

and further noted that neither the so called "ombudsman" nor the CAB-TI operate independently from the ATEU.

The task force recommended:
Montgomery County should revise the Citizen’s Advisory Board for Traffic Issues (CAB-TI) applicable to the speed camera program, ensuring the Board is selected independently of the MCPD and ATEU, has established term limits, represents the full spectrum of views on the efficacy of speed camera usage, and that its views shall be considered by the ATEU. 
and
Montgomery County should appoint, fully independent of the MCPD,ATEU, and Local Designee, a Citizen’s Advocate to represent the citizens and communities regarding speed camera use, placement, and other concerns.

The automated Traffic Enforcement Unit responded to the task force by objecting to the GOCA report, including all findings and recommendations regarding transparency.

The ATEU's response objected to this recommendation with respect to the CAB-TI and Ombudsman, stating that "the Report’s findings with respect to transparency in decision making are flawed":
"the Traffic Division (like other MCPD directorates) consults an informal advisory board comprised of residents who bring varied perspectives to the table, but who lack personal agendas to either expand or contract the speed camera program.  Their participation is unique among similar programs in Maryland, and it helpfully informs the Traffic Division’s judgment.  However, the deliberative process surrounding the selection of speed camera locations like the processes for determining where and when other law enforcement operations will be conducted is not public, nor should it be."
Public Documents show that the CAB-TI was created in 2006 by the MCPD Director of Traffic, and the county website shows that the CAB-TI reviews locations where new speed ccameras would be deployed -- presumably with the intention of leading the public to believe that locations are selected in consultation with the public.  However there is no published information about who the members of this Citizens Advisory Board are, how someone would contact them with a complaint  or pertinent information, or when their meetings take place.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance contacted the Montgomery County Traffic Division Director and asked for the minutes of CAB-TI meetings, and was told that none were kept.

In June, the Maryland Drivers Alliance filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board, to determine whether the CAB-TI might fit the definition of a "public body" under the open meetings act.  The office of the county attorney has thus far responded with a nine page reply to the complaint, essentially confirming the material facts in the complaint (regarding the authenticity of public documents citing the CAB-TI's function and creation, and confirming that no minutes were kept), but asserting that the Open Meetings Act does not apply to them because "The upshot is that the Citizens Advisory Board - Traffic Issues" is not recognized as an advisory board that functions as part of the County Government.  The county attorney's office -- which employs a total of 48 taxpayer funded attorneys -- has requested an extension of an additional 30 days to compose a longer response to why the open meetings act should not apply too the CAB-TI, rather than simply using their resources to make the CAB-TI more transparent and representative of all citizens like the name "Citizens Advisory Board" implies.

CAB-TI Not the Only Secret Meetings
Montgomery County's ATEU has been involved in other secret meetings besides the CAB-TI.  In December 2013, Captain Tom Didone organized a "speed camera symposium" which included members of speed camera programs from across the state.  Included in the agenda were discussions of speed camera errors and upcoming legislation.  A co-sponsor of the event invited the Maryland Drivers Alliance to send an observer to the event.  However Captain Tom Didone forbid our representative entry, citing the fact that we oppose speed cameras as the reason.  The press was also forbidden to observe the event, which was co-sponsored by the Maryland Association of Counties(MACO) and the Maryland Municipal League(MML) --organizations which lobby on behalf of local governments -- largely at taxpayers expense.

In 2013-2014 Captain Didone and at least two other members of the Montgomery County ATEU also participated in secret legislative meetings that were part of what Didone referred to as a "Speed Camera Reform legislation workgroup" (a term also used in a MaCO press release to describe the group.  In fact, Captain Didone once asserted the position that portions of state law which he disagreed were "not fully informed" merely because he was not personally present at the time it was written.  In an email dated Wednesday August 27, 2014, Captain Didone wrote:
"When the General Assembly revised the law in 2009, they removed the paragraph that required the owner to identify the driver, if they wished to transfer the liability.  This provision was a mandate in the law that passed the 2006 General Assembly when Montgomery County was authorized to operate the first speed cameras in the State. This is why I used the phrase “Loophole” because by removing the paragraph, an issue was created that was not previously experienced.
Last year, when I worked on the Speed Camera Reform legislation workgroup, I was informed by staff that legislators voted to remove the “Squealer provision” as it was referred to when they revised the law in 2009.  It is my personal opinion that the legislators took this action without being fully informed of the consequences because they did not have the same workgroups as they did last year.  "
This workgroup, organized by former State Delegate James Malone, drafted speed camera related legislation passed in 2014.  We have since confirmed that the now former Program Manager and Captain Didone's deputy were involved in these work group meetings as well, as was the head of Prince George's County's speed camera program.  However opponents of speed cameras and the press were not permitted to observe these meetings.  The meetings were apparently held completely "off the books" -- with the Department of Legislative Services claiming to recognize no such workgroup.

Public Records Access Also At Issue
The GOCA Task force raised concerns that the County had been unable to produce certain requested information and had cited the fact that such information was maintained by their speed camera contractor, not by the county.  The task force made a modest recommendation:
Montgomery County should modify the speed camera contract to stipulate that all data captured on each citation shall be the property of the County, not the vendor, and that such data on citations, citation camera location, ticketed speed, etc. will be provided to the ATEU and published on the county website (protecting all Personally Identifiable Information (PII)). On several occasions the Task Force requested certain types of data but was informed the data being requested was maintained by the contractor (Xerox) in a proprietary data base and was not available

In their response, the ATEU stated:
"it is a matter of both practical and contractual necessity that the data generated by the Safe Speed program be maintained by  the vendor.  The County simply does not have the financial or human resources to perform the specialized data analysis that the Report seeks, and expanding the workforce to manipulate that data is a solution in search of a problem."

A circuit court previously determined that records of a speed camera program held by a contractor were public records that are subject to the Public Information Act in the case of "Ely vs Town of Morningside".

Montgomery County asserts that they county, not Xerox, "operates" the speed camera, and that the vendor does not substantially control the program.  However their response to the task force implies this is not truly the case, given that the county asserts it does not even have access to all program data and asserts that it doesn't even have the physical capacity to maintain or analyze information about the program.

This is not the only time issues have been raised with access to information about Montgomery County's program.  The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance sent  the Montgomery County "Local Designee" several questions on June 6 pertaining to speed camera errors, which the designee has as of today not responded to.  Because of this, we followed up with a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request on June 22 for information relevant to those questions, and that request has also not been responded to as of today, even though the statutory time frame for responding to an MPIA request has elapsed.

Culture of Secrecy A Long Standing Tradition in Montgomery County
In 2011, Montgomery County's former Inspector General Thomas Dagley decried what he called a Culture of Secrecy in Montgomery County, stating "In Montgomery County, senior management in government and the county attorney’s office have grown too accustomed to operating behind closed doors and avoiding the tough questions."  It is clear based on our own recent experiences that nothing has changed since then, and that the current leadership in Montgomery has no intention of changing their secretive mindset which uses every loophole they can construct to avoid being transparent and honest with the public.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Montgomery County FY15 Speed Camera Revenues Exceeded Projections

Montgomery County estimated speed and red light camera revenues which exceeded projections in FY 2015.  Montgomery County had projected $14.6million in speed camera revenues for FY2015.  Instead, the county budget estimated $16.7.  This placed estimated speed camera revenues at approximately the same level as they were in FY14.

The county also exceeded projected red light camera revenues by 5.8%.

Both revenue sources are very significant politically to the MCPD Traffic Division.  Speed camera revenues are the single largest revenue source in the MCPD budget, making up 37% of the total revenues the MCPD brings in.  What is more, excluding State Aid (ie money given to the MCPD by the state), speed camera revenues exceed all other revenue sources combined.  Speed camera revenues are 60 times the amount brought in by "fines and forfeitures" other than photo enforcement.   The approximately $20million brought in by speed and red light camera revenues is over 5 times the $3.5million brought in by licenses & permits, charges & fees, fines & forfeitures, intergovernment funds and "miscellaneous revenues".

Despite the fact that speed camera revenues are frequently advertised as being earmarked "for public safety", in fact the revenues are marked in the budget as "COUNTY GENERAL FUND", meaning the money is apparently co-mingled with other revenues.  Saying any particular source of money is spent on any particular purpose or project is like pouring a glass of kool-aid into the ocean and trying to scoop it back out.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance confirmed earlier this year that Montgomery County continues to pay a "bounty" of $16.25 per ticket to their contractor, despite claims by some that an amendment to state law passed last year would "end the bounty system."  Montgomery County had an amendment in their contract prior to the passage of that amendment which would have allowed them to automatically switch to a flat fee per camera if the law was changed to require it, however that clause has not been exercised.

According to an April 17 2014 article in the Sentinel, Montgomery County's Captain Thomas Didone told the county council that that amendment to the law -- which he and two other members of Montgomery County's Traffic Division were personally involved in writing -- would require few changes to their program.  In that article Didone stated that the law would permit a "Hybrid Lease",  Montgomery County created the loophole in the previous wording of state law intended to forbid contracts based on ticket volume, simply by not using the word "operate" to define what the contractor does even though that contractor provides and maintains the cameras, processes violations, substantially runs major portions of the program.  Since Montgomery County has asserted they are not required to change their current arrangement until 2017, the public has no way of knowing until then whether a future contract might not be a "flat fee" but rather include some "hybrid" arrangement which still compensates the contractor based on ticket volume and is claimed to satisfy the law simply by avoiding using certain words (just as they did in the past).

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Lidar Lie

After Baltimore City's disastrous speed camera program was forced to admit that their supposedly perfectly calibrated equipment had produced erroneous speed camera tickets due to what speed camera contractor Xerox referred to as "radar effects", speed camera using agencies desperately needed to find a new narrative to replace the platitude "if you won't speed you won't get a ticket".

One of the claims now made is that even though there were problems with speed cameras in Baltimore, that other speed cameras which measure speed with LIDAR cannot be wrong.  The implication that the device uses laayyyzeerrrs, which sound spacey and high tech, is supposed to lead one to believe the device cannot be wrong.

Because anything with lasers on it sounds cool
Of course, this is not true. It has been known for years that even devices which are properly calibrated can still be wrong due to external phenomenon.  One example of this is the sweep effect, something which has been known to exist and documented for years.



You see, in order for a hand held LIDAR device to work accurately, the beam must be held on a single point on the object being measured by the officer.  With a speed camera, the device tracks that point "automatically".  The assumption is that the machine does this correctly, and that it does this correctly every single time, in every single scenario, regardless of circumstances or external conditions, and that the beam will never end up "sweeping" from one point on the target to another which is a different distance away without this being detected.  Just like everyone assumed a radar device could not be wrong merely because it passed an internal calibration, and nothing outside the device could cause an error.... even though that turned out not to be true.

Certainly if you go to court, whomever represents the state will not acknowledge any knowledge of such phenomenon, even though they do have such knowledge, because testilying is a thing.  Rest assured the district court will always assume a device can never be wrong unless there is some very compelling evidence that it was wrong in your specific case... since in Maryland the concept of "reasonable doubt" is a privilege which applies only to career criminals, and not to ordinary citizens like YOU.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Speed Camera Companies Boosted Spending On Lobbying

Photo Enforcement Companies spent over $416,000 attempting to influence state legislators from May 2014 through April 2015, according to state ethics disclosures.

Speed Camera Company Xerox spent approximately $245,000 during this period to three lobbying companies.  Lobbyists from the firm Harris Jones & Malone was paid $55,000. $90,000 was paid to Gerard Evan LTD. Another $100,720 was paid to law firm Alexander and Cleaver to conduct lobbying.

(By odd coincidence, Alexander & Cleaver was also the law firm which represented the Town of Morningside in a dispute over access to public records filed by the editor of this website.  The attorney from Alexander & Cleaver argued that the town did not need to produce speed camera calibration records under Maryland's government transparency law because the program was run by speed camera contractor Brekford Corp.  Morningside lost that case.)

Prior to 2013, Xerox had been spending about $176,000 per year on lobbyists.

Xerox holds speed camera contracts with Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and the State of Maryland, as well as several municipalities.  The firm had been placed in an uncomfortable spotlight because they previously were forced to admit that speed cameras they ran under contract with the City of Baltimore were systematically issuing erroneous citations due to what the company referred to as "radar effects".

Speed Camera Contractor Optotraffic spent $47,788.84 on lobbying from 5/1/2014 through 4/30/2015 to the firm Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan, & Silver.  This was almost the same as the $48,091 they spent in the previous year during this same period.

(Again by coincidence, Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan, & Silver is the law firm which Optotraffic retained in a dispute between the Maryland Drivers Alliance and the Town of Brentwood, where Brentwood had delayed access to records about speed camera errors for four years.  Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan, & Silver argued that Optotraffic should not have to produce records in response to a subpoena.  Eventually, after many additional months, documents were produced which showed that some erroneous speed camera tickets had been issued.... but only more than a year after the public records case had been brought to court and after the legislative hearing for which records had been sought to be presented at had passed).

Speed camera manufacturer Gatso paid $60,500 to the firm Greenwill Consulting Group during this period.  Gatso is a dutch owned company which produces the GS-11 radar speed camera which is used in several jurisdictions.  Gatso has attempted to get into the business of contracting directly for speed camera services, rather than merely providing hardware to other contractors.  It was announced last month that Gatso would be acquired by the Swedish firm Sensys AB, another speed camera manufacturer.

American Traffic Solutions paid lobbyists from Greenfield & Kress, P.A. a total of $62,000.  ATS is one of the largest photo enforcement companies in the US, and has tried to get into the speed camera business in Maryland but has so far been unsuccessful in capturing a major contract in this state.  It is possible ATS may be particularly concerned not only about speed cameras, but also about red light camera legislation.  In the last legislative session legislation was proposes which would have prevented red light cameras from being used issue tickets for slow moving right turns, a type of violation which now constitutes the majority of red light camera tickets issued in some jurisdictions.  That bill died in committee.

Lobbyists provide a way for firms to purchase influence in several ways.  First, lobbyists often make large donations to state lawmakers, which then appear under the name of the lobbyist rather than under the firm's name in campaign donation reports.  In addition, some lobbyists have established political connections.  For example one of the lobbyists retained by Xerox was Robert Garagiola, a former state lawmaker and former candidate for US congress who now works for Alexander & Cleaver.  Harris Jones & Malone is also extremely well connected, as demonstrated by the fact that the mayor of Baltimore City actually presided over the wedding of two senior partners in the firm.  In 2013 Harris Jones & Malone  made itself $285,000 for itself lobbying on various issues in Baltimore City alone.

Photo enforcement companies have been worried about legislation considered in the wake of the collapse of Baltimore City's disastrous speed camera program, and ensuring that no additional restrictions would be imposed beyond paper tiger rules passed last year.  That legislation was written by a secret legislative workgroup which included senior officials from agencies which run speed cameras, but opponents of speed cameras were not invited to participate.  One speed camera company declared victory in its press releases after that legislation passed, claiming that the changes in the "reform" bill would have no effect its existing contracts.

In addition, the election of a Republican Governor who had pledged to be more favorable towards motorists has likely raised concerns. During former governor O'Malley's term between November 2006 and October 2014, Xerox and ACS (the company Xerox acquired their speed camera business from) reported a total of $16,500 in campaign donations in Maryland exclusively to democratic candidates and organization.  This included 2014 donations of $4000 to Anthony Brown and $4000 to Ken Ulman, who were running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.   However immediately after Governor Hogan's upset victory over Anthony Brown, Xerox made a $2000 donation to the Maryland Republican Party Central Committee in November 2014, and a $2000 campaign donation in January 2015 to Larry Hogan's Campaign Fund.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Takoma Park Police Officer Indicted In Road Rage Incident

A Takoma Park police officer has been indicted by a Prince George's County Grand Jury on charges of related to a 2014 road rage incident.

Prosecutors state that in July 2014 Officer Travis Ala, while off duty, was driving on Route 50 westbound in Bowie when he encountered an vehicle in the left lane.  Ala, according to prosecutors, swerved around the vehicle and pulled in front of it and applied his brakes.  A witness claimed that Ala then pulled a handgun and pointed it at motorists.

On Tuesday the grand jury indicted Ala on charges of first and second degree assault and the user of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence.

Officer Ala was also involved in a separate incident in March 2015 involving a fatal traffic accident which killed three people.  A Toyota Corolla driving on Route 50 in Anne Arundel County was stopped in traffic when it was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by off duty officer Ala, who was driving in an unmarked police vehicle registered to the Takoma Park Police.  Three passengers in the Toyota were killed.

After the July 2014 incident Ala was temporarily placed on administrative leave, but was returned to duty when no charges had been filed after several months.  After the crash in March Ala was placed back on administrative leave and remains so at this time.  Maryland state police have stated they have not completed their investigation into the March crash.

Before these incidents, Officer Ala had previously been named "Officer of the Year" by the Takoma Park Police in May 2014.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Governor Hogan Announces New Funding for Roads

Governor Larry Hogan announced $1.97billion in funding for highways and bridges to fund 84 individual projects across the state.

Selected projects would include repaving 1,959 lane miles of highway, 25 safety improvement projects, 13 projects targeted to improve traffic flow, and repairs to 26 bridges.  When combined with previously allocated funds, the state would now have funds allocated to fix all structurally deficient bridges in Maryland.
“Today, I’m delivering on my promise to provide nearly $2 billion in funding to our highways and bridges across the state,” said Governor Hogan. “This investment not only will move long-awaited highway projects into construction, so that Maryland families and businesses will benefit from safer, smoother roads, but also it will address every single structurally deficient bridge in the state. Building, maintaining, and fixing Maryland’s roads and bridges is a top priority of our administration.”.
Among newly funded projects which had been identified as high priority by counties:

  • Widening MD 404 from two to four lanes with a median from US 50 to the Denton Bypass
  • Widening US 113 from two to four lanes with a median from Five Mile Branch Road to north of Public Landing Road
  • Upgrading US 219 north of I-68 and building a new interchange at I-68
  • Reconstructing the MD 175/MD 295 interchange to improve access to Fort George G. Meade
  • Re-configuring traffic lanes along US 50 eastbound over Severn River Bridge to provide an additional lane to reduce congestion
  • Upgrading the existing partial interchange at the Greenbelt Metro Station to a full interchange to support the proposed FBI headquarters.
  • Reconstructing US 1 to a four-lane divided highway with a median and bicycle/pedestrian safety improvements from College Avenue to MD 193.  
  • Widening Northbound MD 140 (Reisterstown Road) to add a third lane from Painters Mill to Garrison View Road.
  • Widening MD 2/4 to provide a third through lane and auxiliary lanes in each direction from north of Stoakley Road to south of MD 765A.
  • Improving the intersection at MD 5 (Point Lookout Road) and Moakley Street/Abell Street.
  • Reconstructing the I-270/MD 85 interchange to reduce congestion and upgrade structurally deficient bridges.
  • A $100 million "Innovative Congestion Reduction Project" on I-270 in Montgomery County from I-370 to the Y-split.  This was stated to include "peak dynamic shoulder use, bus on shoulder use, ramp metering and other proven technology based initiatives designed to reduce congestion."

These projects would all be slated to begin work by 2018.  See Fact Sheet on Planned Projects.

The governor also announced that the Purple Line project would move forwards, but balked at the original price tag and announced that the project would be made "more cost effective and streamlined", and the state's share of the project being reduced to $168 million.
“I have always said this decision was never about whether public transit was worthwhile, but whether it is affordable and makes sense,” said Governor Hogan. “In reducing costs here, hundreds of millions of dollars will become available for other important projects. Our administration promised to chart a new course for Maryland – one where economic development and jobs are our top priority. The Purple Line is a long-term investment that will be an important economic driver for our state.”