The province is putting photo radar on the examination table after 17 years of sending expensive surprises in the mail to motorists caught speeding or running red lights on Winnipeg streets.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler announced a "comprehensive review" Wednesday of how and where the technology is being used and whether it's achieving its goal of improving road safety.
Photo radar cameras were introduced in 2003 in Winnipeg; it remains the one municipality in Manitoba using photo enforcement.
The province issued a request for proposals to find a consultant to conduct the review, Schuler said.
He wouldn't say whether he's aware of any data showing photo radar has improved public safety.
"That is the question we're asking and we would like to have someone look at the empirical data to make sure that it is actually doing what it was supposed to do and that is bring safety to our streets," he said.
The RFP asks for the consultant to "determine the efficacy of photo enforcement in reducing red light and speeding offence and reducing collisions and injuries" and "analyze the financial aspects of photo enforcement."
Schuler said the province expects a final report back with recommendations within three to four months.
Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Gord Spado welcomed news of the review Wednesday. He said equipment currently being used is out of date. He said police hope a review will help determine more effective ways to enforce traffic laws. Enforcement is currently done at camera-equipped intersections and via mobile street units mounted in unmarked vehicles.
"Right now we’re very restricted as to where we can be — it’s just construction zones, playgrounds and school zones. So we would like to be able to deploy in high-speed corridors, where maybe it’s unsafe to do traditional-style enforcement, where we know there’s an identified safety concern and speed problem," Spado said.
He rejected oft-made suggestions from critics that photo enforcement is a cash-grab used to pad the police budget.
"I would disagree with that, because if we can change driver behaviour and slow them down in locations where there’s high risk, I think we’re doing a lot for safety," he said, pointing to decreased speeds in school zones as proactively helping save lives.
Spado also noted intersections with cameras are no longer listed among the top 20 collision spots in the city, having helped change driver behaviour. Traffic officers would like to have more flexibility to move cameras to frequent trouble areas.
"I think it’s great that we’re doing this review. I don’t want to say it’s overdue, but I think we need to look at it," he said.
Wise Up Winnipeg founder Todd Dube called the review "egregiously overdue." As a traffic-safety advocate, he has long admonished photo-radar enforcement as being poorly engineered. He's fought his own photo-radar tickets and helped hundreds of others do the same in court.
"Finally (the city) is going to be accountable in a proper review. A proper review will reveal that this program has done nothing except trade our true motoring safety for a share of the profit," he said.
Wise Up Winnipeg, a citizens group with more than 14,000 Facebook followers, believes the city should do three things to make streets safer: review and update speed limits on some major roadways — such as Grant Avenue — adjust amber-light timing at intersections and set up dual signage when speed limits decrease, to better alert drivers to pump the brakes.
After those changes are accomplished, Dube believes photo enforcement will no longer be as lucrative. He hopes the city is also forced to renew its photo-enforcement contract, which Spado said expires in May.
"I'd like the city to keep its partner in this for seven more expensive years because what's going to be revealed is going to be a drastic decline in violations because there won't be any deficient engineering to target," Dube said. "And it will be a money-losing program, not a money-making program."
Mayor Brian Bowman wasn't available for an interview Wednesday, though his press secretary said he'd just learned of the review and was seeking more information. Winnipeg Police Board chair Kevin Klein didn't respond to requests for comment.
According to the 2018 WPS annual report, 141,028 photo-enforcement tickets were issued last year. In its 2018 program update, the police force reported about $16.47 million in ticket revenue and $5.8 million in expenses tied to the program.
— With files from Ben Waldman
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, November 14, 2019 at 6:53 AM CST: Corrects typo