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.