Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Photo-radar refunds on way

Officials blame improper wording on 2,574 tickets

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Drivers are relieved they'll get a refund after an administrative snafu resulted in their photo-radar speeding tickets being quashed.

But they remain irked they were ticketed and saddled with hefty fines after recently passing through a Kenaston Boulevard construction zone.

"I don't deserve to pay this," Jared Narine, 26, told the Free Press Wednesday. "It's unjustifiable. End of story."

"Improper wording" on 2,574 photo-radar tickets issued from June 27 to July 1 in a construction zone at Kenaston Boulevard, south of Scurfield Boulevard, has prompted police and justice officials to order the tags cancelled and refunds issued where appropriate, Winnipeg police said.

The face value of the tickets, exclusive of court or other costs, is about $1.2 million, a provincial spokeswoman said.

The computer in a photo-radar van stationed at the site during those days wasn't updated to issue tickets in line with a recent amendment to provincial traffic laws on speeding in construction zones, said police.

Drivers were charged with speeding under Highway Traffic Act section 95(1) when they should have been "speeding in a designated construction zone" tags under section 95(1) (b.1), police said.

The mistake -- limited to the one construction zone -- is being called an "administrative error."

It came to light after the Crown's office noticed potential problems with the tickets and notified the Winnipeg Police Service.

Narine and others suspect there were likely other mistakes made that prompted the ticket refund -- including whether correct signs warning drivers to slow down were posted.

Narine got a ticket for $626.25 for doing 82 kilometres per hour in what is usually an 80 km/h zone on June 30. Because it's an ongoing construction zone, the speed limit dropped to 60 km/h.

"I don't even remember seeing a flash behind me -- no flash at all," Narine said.

He also said he didn't see any signs warning him of a reduction in the speed limit and he didn't see any construction workers.

Others told similar stories, including Perry Gilfix, who was tagged by a photo-radar van in the same zone at 9 a.m. on June 28.

"They clocked me at 74 km/h with a posted speed limit of 60 km/h," Gilfix said in an email. "I never saw any sign and neither did the other... ticketed drivers," he said.

Prominent signs observed and photographed by the Free Press at the construction zone on Wednesday noted a 60 km/h limit. "(That) is not what I saw on June 28," Gilfix said.

"There is no way they could catch that many speeders if they put up the displays that are there now."

He questioned the police motivation to recommend the province nix the tickets.

"They got greedy and were caught," Gilfix said. "I was planning to fight the ticket and I'm sure many others were as well.

"That is why they are claiming this technical mistake is the reason they are forgiving the tickets. It was nothing but a money-grabbing speed trap," he said.

The 2,500 tickets issued over the five days in this construction zone represent nearly 3.5 per cent of the total number of photo-radar tickets issued city-wide in all of 2013.

A total of 74,897 photo-radar tickets were issued in Winnipeg last year, police statistics show.

Police said they requested the tickets be thrown out and refunds issued out of fairness and transparency.

They had the option of reissuing them, but chose not to.

Police said there were hundreds of other tickets issued in the same zone during the affected dates that were legitimate.

The high volume of speeders in the area is concerning, said Det. Sgt. Natalie Aitken.

"The sheer number of tickets... reflects the fact that people aren't getting the message," she said.

The hope is that people who got tagged with problem tickets will see being ticketed as a deterrent even though they're getting a reprieve, said Aitken.

Police pledged to continue using photo radar in construction zones.

Narine said the snafu makes him question the city's methods.

He suspects if police officers enforced traffic laws instead of leaving the task to photo radar, the result would be different.

"In this case, we were all being charged by a robot doing a police officer's job. Is that justifiable? Not in my books," he said.

Len Eastoe is a former police officer whose business, Traffic Ticket Experts, helps people challenge traffic infractions.

He also suspects there's more to the story than officials are saying.

"Personally, I think there's something else that we're not being told, and I suspect that would be (about) signage," he said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2014 A4

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