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Province taking aim at photo radar “cash cow”

UPDATE: The City has released more recent figures for photo radar revenue. It says $3.29 million was brought in in 2017 and $2.83 million in 2018. It has seen a 45 per cent drop in injury collisions over the past three years. The current ATE contract term ends on May 31, 2020.

The City of Grande Prairie is going to have to prove photo radar isn’t being used as a cash cow. Transportation Minister Brian Mason has given Alberta municipalities one year to show their programs are making roads safer and aren’t just a revenue tool.

“[Albertans] feel that they’re being taken advantage of, and I think they’re right, so I want to fix that.”

In the 2016-2017 calendar year, Grande Prairie made just less than $4.2 million in revenue from nearly 83,000 hours at 282 automated traffic enforcement locations. That includes the undisclosed amount it pays to Global Traffic Limited to run the program. The province also gets part of the income from tickets, and the formula isn’t changing.

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The city’s revenue is the fourth highest in the province, just behind Spruce Grove at $5.2 million. The City of Edmonton raked in more than $50 million, while Calgary totalled more than $38 million.

The numbers come from a long-awaited review of photo radar that was launched in 2017. Mason says the results show that while the tool is effective at reducing collisions, it’s not being properly used in all municipalities.

“We will be working with them to find a way to track the effectiveness of their locations and where their locations maybe don’t improve traffic safety very much but generate a lot of revenue, we’re going to tell them to stop.”

Data from the City of Grande Prairie shows that since its Safe City Roads Action Plan began in 2015, collision rates have fallen by 33 per cent from 2014 levels, and injury collision rates have fallen by 48 per cent. The funds brought in go towards to the enforcement department’s budget and to reduce the costs of policing expenses and RCMP contracts on taxpayers.

Of particular concern to the minister is what he calls a loophole in the current guidelines that “you can drive a Mack truck through”. It allows photo radar to be used on any four-lane or high-speed road without any data to support its need.

That will no longer be allowed unless there’s a documented safety issue. Mason has also defined what a transition zone is, which he felt was previously a grey area.

“The guidelines already say you can’t put photo radar in transition zones but it doesn’t say what a transition zone is, so what we’ve done is defined precisely how that will operate.”

Changes to the provincial guidelines include auditing municipal traffic safety plans to make sure photo radar is tied to safety using collision data as well as posting locations online. The government will work with municipalities to implement the changes over the next year, and Mason says more could come.

“I think in some cases photo radar in the province of Alberta has been a cash cow. It’s my intention that we are going to humanely put the cash cow down.”

Conventional traffic enforcement, like police patrols or scanning traffic with radar, is still allowed. The same goes for photo radar in school, playground, and construction zones.

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