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Why photo radar is so screwed

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It’s all Steve Ashton’s fault. The rest of the NDP caucus can be blamed, too, but Ashton was former Premier Gary Doer’s point man on the file back in November 2001.

So blame Ashton.

On Nov. 16, 2001, Ashton was the minister who introduced legislation that would give the City of Winnipeg the authority to use cameras instead of cops to catch speeders.

At the time Ashton stressed that the cameras were not being deployed as a means to generate revenue for the province or municipalities, but as a way to make roads safer and reduce accidents. He said the cameras will not replace traditional police enforcement.

To remove criticism the cameras were a cash grab by then Mayor Glen Murray, the province put limits on where the mobile photo radar cameras could be deployed in the Highway Traffic Act:

Limitations re speed limit enforcement

257.1(2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), when municipalities and peace officers acting on behalf of municipalities or the government use image capturing enforcement systems for speed limit enforcement, they may only use them to detect speed limit violations that occur

(a) in construction zones, playground zones and school zones; and

(b) at intersections that are controlled by traffic control lights.

It’s no secret that at the time police wanted to have the discretion to put the mobile cameras where they saw fit, the places where there is a genuine speeding problem and a risk to life.

Instead the province took that discretion away from them and sold the speed cameras as a tool to make streets safer.

By taking that power away police were restricted in where the cameras could go.

Ten years later we all know where the mobile cameras are. We all know what they look like and where they park. Many of us slow down when we seen them and speed up again when we’re out of the range. We know the cameras so well the number of speed violations and fine revenue has dropped in the past couple of years.

So when police moved a mobile unit to a new spot near Grant Avenue and Nathaniel Street back in September, it came as a big surprise to hundreds of drivers that they were caught speeding.

We also have complaints that the mobile camera at Grant and Nathaniel isn’t calibrated correctly and too far off the road to get an accurate reading of cars whizzing by.

And we now have police defending the cameras and the job they do.

None of this would’ve happened if the NDP hadn’t monkeyed around where the cameras could go. They put police in this position.

If anything, this whole episode just demonstrates that we need more cameras at places where collision and speed data show we need them. Like on Wellington Crescent or Roblin Boulevard or Oak Point Highway or even Main Street in West St. Paul. Or how about on the Trans Canada east and west coming into the city? How about on Highway 59 going through Brokenhead First Nation?

This episode has also churned up is the belief that we got rid of photo radar we could hire more cops to do photo enforcement, like in the good days of speed traps behind the Texaco billboard, with the money we save.

Wrong. As it’s set up, the only people who pay for the camera enforcement program are the people caught speeding. The cost of the program comes from fine revenue and anything beyond that amount goes into police and city coffers. Repeat: Taxpayers don’t spend a dime on photo enforcement. Only speeders do. Call it a user fee.

Then there’s this: Folks, the speed limit in Winnipeg is 50 km/h unless otherwise posted. Repeat: 50.

If you didn’t know that already, it seems to me that’s just one more argument for more cameras.

And one more thing. The cameras have always been about the money. The side benefit is safer roads. From Day 1 it’s always been about the money.

No matter how hard Ashton and the NDP tried to change that.

Postscript

Here is the province’s Brown Book.

It lists all fines in Manitoba.

On page 29 you’ll find Sec. 95 (1), the fine schedule for speeding.

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