Alberta to end use of photo radar as 'cash cow'

The Alberta government plans to eliminate photo radar as a tool for revenue generation, Transportation Minister Brian Mason vowed Thursday.

'We are going to humanely put the cash cow down,' says transportation minister

Transportation Minister Brian Mason speaks to reporters Thursday about changes to how municipalities use photo radar in Alberta. (CBC)

The Alberta government plans to eliminate photo radar as a tool for revenue generation, Transportation Minister Brian Mason vowed Thursday.

"I think in some cases photo radar in the province of Alberta has been a cash cow," Mason told a news conference in Edmonton. "It's my intention that we are going to humanely put the cash cow down."

The government will introduce new guidelines and force municipalities to disclose locations and the rationale for their use at those sites.

Starting March 1, 2020, municipalities will be required to submit reports to the Alberta government showing the cameras are making the roads safer.

Municipal traffic safety plans will have to tie photo radar locations to safety and will be audited by the provincial government.

The government will prohibit the use of photo radar in speed transition zones starting June 1. The new guidelines will, for the first time, define what a transition zone is. The size of a zone varies according to how much a vehicle needs to slow down. For example, a change in speed of 30 km/hr, requires a transition zone of 200 metres, 100 metres on either side of a sign. 

Municipalities will also be prohibited from placing the devices on multi-lane highways, like Anthony Henday Drive in Edmonton, without having documented traffic data to justify them.

Conventional speed enforcement will still be allowed.  

The locations of photo radar cameras will have to be posted online and updated monthly starting June 1.

The new rules come following a $190,000 two-year review on whether municipalities are using photo radar for safety or as a cash cow.

Although the report was commissioned over concerns photo radar was used to generate revenue for municipalities, the report reaches no conclusion given the lack of traffic data.

The third-party review found photo radar has a marginal contribution to traffic safety, reducing collisions rates by only 1.4 per cent.

Mason said most collisions take place at intersections but photo radar is rarely used there. Instead, they are often deployed on stretches of road where drivers usually speed.

Mason said he believes some municipalities were using the program to generate revenue. Some municipalities have fewer photo radar locations but generate more revenue, he said.

"That tells me that there are different factors at play in terms of the decision ... on how much photo radar you're going to deploy, where you're going to deploy it," Mason said.

"There's not a relationship, in many cases, between improved safety outcomes and the deployment of photo radar." 

 According to the report, in 2016-17 Calgary generated $38.1 million from 950 photo radar locations while Edmonton took in $50.8 million from 272 locations. 

Twenty-seven Alberta municipalities have photo radar programs.

The review began in early 2017. The government hoped to compile data on how photo radar locations are chosen, traffic statistics and how much money municipalities are collecting from the program.

When he announced the review, Mason noted the use of photo radar and resulting revenues increased after the City of Edmonton took over the photo radar program from police.

Edmonton's program is transparent, mayor says 

Calgary Police issued a statement saying its photo radar program already complies with the new guidelines. 

"We will make any required reporting adjustments and will take additional time to review the findings in depth to determine any further impacts," the statement said. "We are supportive of the review's findings as they are intended to enhance public and officer safety."

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson insisted the city is transparent and responsible about how it uses photo radar. 

"I think It's important not to generalize about all municipalities," Iveson said.

He said Edmonton directs its photo radar revenues to a reserve fund that is used to fund traffic safety initiatives like education, crosswalk and signalling improvements.

Iveson said photo radar revenues from 2018 are lower than the amounts collected in 2016. 

In 2018, some $42 million was collected from photo radar and intersection cameras, a drop of about 27 per cent from $52 million in 2016.  

"The revenue is coming down because people are slowing down, which is a good thing," he said. 

Gord Cebryk, deputy manager of city operations, said the city will review the province's new guidelines to determine if changes need to be made. 

"I think most of our locations and our practices are already in compliance, but we want to just make sure that everything is in accordance with the new guidelines," he said. 

That includes showing why certain locations are chosen, that they don't unfairly have photo radar in transition zones, such as going from 50 km/h to 60 km/h, "making sure that what we do is always safety-based."


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