Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bill Would End SHA's Speed Camera Program

A bill which would end the SHA's speed camera program has been submitted to the General Assembly and is set for a hearing on March 5.

House Bill 1038 would repeal article 21-810, which authorizes the state to use speed cameras on highway work zones "regardless of whether workers are present".  The bill sponsors are Delegates Haven Shoemaker, John Cluster, Glen Glass, Jay Jalisi, Trent Kittleman, Robert Long, Tony McConkey, Warren Miller, and Matthew Morgan.

HB 1038 would have no effect on local speed camera programs, such as those in Montgomery County and Prince George's County on local roads, since those cameras are authorized under a different statute.

In prior years, legislation repealing both state and local speed cameras failed.  The state legislature has in the past voted against legislation and amendments which would have ended the use of workzone speed cameras in workzones without actual workers.

In 2011, our website was first to report that the SHA failed to have speed cameras certified by an independently calibrated laboratory for the first nine months they were in operation, relying instead on the manufacturer's non-independent certification.  The SHA only had the equipment calibrated after we reported this.  Citations issued during that period were not refunded.

The SHA defended this practice by claiming that the requirement that equipment be certified annually doesn't mean this testing must be done until the equipment has been used for a full 12 months.  Other local governments such as Hagerstown, Greenbelt, and Laurel followed the SHA's lead that it was OK to bend calibration requirements in this exact same way.

A 2012 audit of the SHA's program confirmed this took place.  In addition, the audit revealed that the SHA waived its own requirements for testing and calibration equipment. The Audit stated:
"At the time of the contract award and as of April 2012, the specific speed detection equipment (scanning LIDAR, a laser system) listed in the contractor’s proposal, and ultimately used, was not reported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as conforming to its guidelines, as required by the RFP. The contract required that all equipment conform with IACP’s speed detection equipment standards to provide assurance of its calibration and functionality. "
The IACP maintains a "Conforming Products List" certifying over 80 different radar devices and over 30 lidar devices, including speed cameras and devices for "automatic" enforcement, but which to this day does not include the specific device chosen by the SHA.
The audit also stated:
"Prior to awarding the contract, SHA used a consulting firm to conduct a system accuracy test of the contractor’s proposed equipment in an active highway work zone. However, the consulting firm deviated from SHA’s testing instructions and therefore, the basis for the conclusion that the equipment met performance requirements is questionable. "

A former SHA employee and whistleblower, Gene Simmers, testified on previous legislation that he had been instructed to give preferential treatment to a specific vendor.  ""My office was instructed, and I was a supervisor, I was instructed 'not to review not to analyze or test the products from the ACS company'.  In other words, to give them the job."

"There is incontrovertible proof, with the office of legislative audits and the documents that I have produced, that this program was a sham to begin with.  The product does not work properly.  It wasn't tested properly.  It wasn't calibrated properly for 9 months.  And millions of dollars were taken from the citizens of Maryland without a calibration of the system for 9 months.  That's not my opinion that's the office of legislative audits."

The SHA currently uses the same vendor as Baltimore City did prior to 2012, Xerox (formerly ACS State and Local Solutions).  In December 2012 Xerox was forced to admit that their speed cameras in Baltimore City had systematically issued tickets based on false speed readings, and later audits revealed that these erroneous readings were even more widespread than originally known.

The Baltimore audit examined the videos and time stamped images to determine that recorded speed readings were erroneous.  However citations issued by the SHA's program round time stamps off to the second and withhold the real time intervals between images from accused defendants, and no videos exist.  Thus an audit of the SHA's program to identify similar speed measurement errors is not even possible, and defendants have no time stamped evidence they can use to dispute recorded speeds.  The SHA under the previous administration opposed all proposed requirements for stricter testing standards or to include accurate time stamps so that speeds could be verified after the fact, ensuring that the recorded speed on citations would be the ONLY evidence of speed available.

The Federal Highway Administration(FHWA) has stated that accidents occurring in work zones account for 1.6% of all traffic crashes.  Regarding accidents that involve worker fatalities, the FWHA has stated that "More than half of these fatalities were workers struck by construction vehicles."  Between 2002 and 2010, work zone fatalities have decreased by 51% nation wide, despite the fact that only a few states use speed cameras statewide in work zones.

In 2005 the Maryland SHA examined one alternate form of traffic speed control, speed display trailers, and found that "The speed display trailer is an effective speed reduction measure in work zones." With mean speeds reduced by 2-7 mph..  The study noted that "Drivers have shown positive attitudes toward the speed monitoring display."  and that "The speed display trailer is a cost-effective speed control measure."  Prior to the introduction of speed cameras, the Maryland SHA examined other types of speed control as well and found these could also increase voluntary compliance with speed limits.  However, since the introduction of profitable work zone speed cameras on interstate highways, supporters of camera rarely if ever discuss the fact that traffic engineering alternatives to automated enforcement exist.

The bill will need to survive the "Environment and Transportation Committee", whose leadership is extremely hostile towards motorists, in order to move on to the General Assembly.  A hearing before the committee is scheduled for March 5 at 1pm.  The members of the committee are:
Kumar Barve, Chairman: (vice chair)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bill Would End Photo-Ticketing For Right Turns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Must Pass Motorist-Hostile Committee

A hearing for the bill is scheduled for February 26 before the Environmental and Transportation Committee.  The members of this committee are:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Delegates Re-Introduce Speed Camera Audit Bill

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

The bill, HB0271, states that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

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

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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

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

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

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

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