Toronto

Toronto drivers paying $34M in fines thanks to speed cameras. Where should that money go?

Toronto has collected $34 million in fines since its automated speed cameras began snapping pictures of lead-footed drivers around the city and advocates say they want that money rolled directly into the city’s road safety programs.

Cameras have issued more than 560,000 tickets during their 2 years in operation

This 'automated speed enforcement' camera is among 50 placed in wards around the city as part of the Vision Zero program, which aims to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on city streets. The city has collected $34 million fines from the cameras since 2020. (CBC)

Toronto has collected $34 million in fines since its automated speed cameras began snapping pictures of lead-footed drivers and advocates say they want that money rolled directly into the city's road safety programs.

City staff provided the figures to CBC Toronto, revealing for the first time how much money the cameras have raised since the start of the program. The cameras have issued 560,000 tickets between July 2020 and the end of October 2022.

Advocates say as much of the $34 million in fines as possible should be used to bolster the city's Vision Zero Road Safety Plan. 

"The fact that that much speeding occurs in our city is because our streets are designed like highways, and that's easy to fix by retrofitting them," said Jessica Spieker, a spokesperson for a group called Friends and Families for Safe Streets.

"It's not that expensive." 

Toronto's Vision Zero plan began in 2017. Two years later, the city doubled-down on the strategy, asking staff to study a number of measures, including the installation of speed cameras, changing road design and lowering speed limits on arterial roads. 

Jessica Spieker, spokesperson from Families and Friends for Safe Streets, says she would like to see the millions in fines collected by the city from its automated speed cameras rolled back into the Vision Zero budget. (Doug Husby)

Earlier this year, the city said its total combined operating and capital spending on the Vision Zero between 2017 and 2021 was estimated to be $205.6 million. The budget for 2022 included $64 million to expand both enforcement and school crossing guard programs.

The automated speed cameras became part of the city's plan with 50 of the devices in rotating locations around the city. Toronto announced last month that it will add an additional 25 cameras to that complement.

The average fine issued by the cameras is $107 with no demerit points.

City staff could not immediately say how much the city has spent to operate and maintain the cameras since 2020.

"The revenue collected (set fines plus costs and fees) offsets the program cost," city spokesperson Alex Burke said in a statement.

Until recently, the city said it could not release the information about the fine revenue because it was the property of the province. City staff said the Ontario Court of Justice authorized it to share the information on charges and fines after CBC Toronto requested the data. 

Revenue should fund street redesign, critics say

Cycle Toronto's Alison Stewart said the city needs to figure out a way to be more transparent about the release of the fine data and say how its being spent. She too would like to see that funding used to address road safety.

"Any revenue above and beyond the cost of the program should really be used to implement immediate road safety improvements," she said. "And we're not seeing that."

She pointed to the speed camera on Parkside Drive, which has been consistently issuing the most tickets a month in Toronto, as a sign further intervention is needed on the busy road.

A crash on the street last year resulted in the deaths of two people.

"Parkside remains a really dangerous street for people outside of cars and even people in cars," Stewart said. "There have been no implementation of safety improvements to that street to force drivers to slow down and basically follow the law."

Cars travel south on Parkside Drive passing by one of the city's 50 automated speed cameras. Safety advocates have been pushing for improvements, pointing to a crash on Parkside that took the lives of two people in 2021 as proof the street is dangerous. (Doug Husby)

Faraz Gholizadeh lives just up the street from that speed camera on Parkside Drive. He regularly watches traffic zip by his home with no regard for the speed limit of 40 kilometres an hour. The father of two is worried for the safety of his children and his neighbours.

"We can accept busy, but dangerous is just unacceptable," he said.

Gholizadeh said he'd like to see the fines directly spent on street reconstruction. It's better to address the core reason why people are speeding than to put more speed cameras in place, he said.

"The streets need to be redesigned in order so that we don't even need speed cameras, so that [high] speeds can't be hit," he said.

The city insists its Vision Zero program is working, noting a 34 per cent reduction in fatalities and serious injuries compared to a pre-pandemic five-year average.

Despite that, road advocates say fatalities have not moved much since the start of the program. There were 78 deaths on Toronto streets in 2016, which was a high over the past decade. Generally, there have been around 60 deaths a year on the city streets since 2013. 

Forty-eight people have died on Toronto streets up to early November of this year.

Triple Vision Zero funding, advocate says

Road safety advocate Albert Koehl said Vision Zero has been a failure. It needs triple the funding it currently receives, he added.

"It's a choice, we know how to fix our roads," he said. " If there's a revenue source here that should be re-invested in the place where it's being generated."

Mayor John Tory has pledged to expand the number of speed cameras throughout the city to 150 but has acknowledged more must be done to address road safety. The speed cameras are just one "important tool in our toolbox" when it comes to road safety, he said in a statement.

The $64 million budgeted for Vision Zero in 2022 is much more than the ticket revenue received by Toronto, he added.

"I would rather we get no ticket revenue from these cameras because everyone is actually slowing down and obeying the speed limits where they are deployed," Tory said.

"That is not the case right now, and so I will work to make sure we continue to invest in the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan and all the other measures, including increased police traffic enforcement, to make our streets safe."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shawn Jeffords is CBC Toronto's Municipal Affairs Reporter. He has previously covered Queen's Park for The Canadian Press. You can reach him by emailing shawn.jeffords@cbc.ca.

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