By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A group of Morinville residents dissatisfied with Morinville’s photo radar program and how it operates are frustrated with what they see as a lack of response to their questions and concerns. They have taken their grievances outside the community, sending a package of complaints and information to Morinville RCMP, the Alberta Solicitor General, the Minister of Justice and local and regional media outlets.
Spokesperson for the group, James O’Brien, said questions and concerns expressed to local government in both letters to the media and formal presentation to Morinville Town Council have received no formal or satisfactory answers related to the work Integrated Traffic Services, the Town’s photo radar contractor, is doing in the community. “This has been going on for over a year; and one normally goes up the ladder to try and resolve unresolved problems,” O’Brien said of taking the matter over the Town’s head. “The Solicitor General is responsible for photo radar. Since there are those of us who feel that they haven’t done their job, the only recourse I could think of was to also involve the Justice ministry to check on the Solicitor General’s office.”
Central to their grievances is the belief it is wrong to bring in photo radar revenue under the mandate of traffic safety. “It is unethical, immoral, unscrupulous and corrupt to use photo radar to bring in tremendous amounts of revenue to the Town coffers under the guise of traffic safety, especially when it has been shown that very little to no time at all has been spent monitoring areas which even the contractor has deemed requiring monitoring [and] enforcement,” O’Brien said. “I would really like to see where every penny of the revenue from this operation has been, or is earmarked to be, spent.”
O’Brien’s package of data suggests that in the third quarter of 2011, 10 of the 20 photo radar locations on ITS’s list received no monitoring time at all. These locations, according to O’Brien’s documentation, included some school and playground zones in the community. By contrast the group’s analysis of photo radar data indicates 39.75 per cent of the contractor’s 3rd quarter time was spent on Cardiff Road between 100 Street and 94 Street.
O’Brien and his group say they have taken their concerns and their analysis of the work ITS is doing to administration but are simply tired of waiting for answers. “How long does one wait before saying enough is enough?” O’Brien said, adding he had absolutely no complaints with Morinville CAO Debbie Oyarzun, who provided him with the data they analysed. But he is troubled that a review of Morinville’s photo radar locations that was to take place in the first quarter has not been completed.
Traffic analysis completed
Morinville’s CAO said a review of Morinville’s photo radar locations will be an outcome of broader work the Town has been involved in over the first quarter; namely an overall traffic safety review. Oyarzun said mapping and inventory of the community with respect to all stop signs, yield signs and cross walks is now completed. The next step will be a public consultation, including possibly a couple open houses to get community input on all aspects of traffic safety. That information will then go before the community’s Traffic Safety Committee, the Morinville RCMP and Morinville Town Council before full implementation, something she is hoping to have in place this summer before children return to school in the fall.
Oyarzun said O’Brien and his group have every right to take their matters to the province; however, she was somewhat disappointed by the group’s unwillingness to wait until all the work was completed, given Council had committed monies in its 2012 budget to a traffic safety review and plan. The CAO said she had publicly committed to follow up the traffic safety review with a look at photo radar locations, and that the process would be a public one where those who had expressed concerns in the past would be invited to the table to participate. “I really wasn’t sure what the reason was for pushing it harder and faster.”
She said she is looking to do things in a more planned way. “It appears in the past we may have done things in a bit of a reactive or ad hoc fashion versus taking a more planned approach,” she said, noting it is better to plan where stop signs and cross walks should be rather than placing one merely because someone made a comment.
With respect to Morinville’s traffic safety, the first step was to get the entire community mapped out as to where every cross walk, stop sign and speed zone was. “[It’s] taking the time to map what we have, understanding what’s there, what’s working, and then getting public input into what’s working and not working, and the concerns,” she said, adding that input would come from the Town’s community Peace Officers, RCMP, Council, Town staff and the public, and then putting a plan in place. Photo radar locations will be part of that plan.
O’Brien’s group is critical that ITS is allowed to choose photo radar locations for the community. Oyarzun says this is not exactly the case.
“Right now photo radar locations are vetted by the RCMP and the CPOs through the RCMP,” Oyarzun explained, adding ITS proposes the locations which are then put before the RCMP to ensure there is no public safety risk, that that the locations are appropriate, and that they are in keeping with RCMP criteria. Those recommendations are then made to Administration who then pass them on to the Town’s Traffic Safety Committee, and ultimately on to Council. “It’s not that ITS just decides where it belongs.”
But however the locations are chosen and approved, O’Brien and his group are troubled in their impression that half of the locations identified as safety issues in the community saw no coverage at all in the third quarter of 2011, particularly locations in school zones.
Oyarzun says this is not the case entirely as Morinville’s two CPOs cover school zones. “Those are high priorities for the CPOs,” Oyarzun said, adding CPOS are now parking down the road from the schools due to some concerns they were taking up parent drop off space. “They are now getting out and they’re actually using it as a bit of PR, mixing and mingling with the sidewalk patrol guys. They’re meeting with them, talking with them to get to know them a little bit.”
The CAO said the inclusion of school zones on ITS’ list of 20 locations will be reviewed now that the mapping is done and once public consultation is completed. “They will not be reviewed in isolation,” she said. “I want it reviewed as part of the bigger picture. We can draw attention to anything in here [the locations] that doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s what this is all about, opening it up.”
But one thing that is unlikely to be on the table is the idea of not giving speeders tickets. Oyarzun spoke to accusations Morinville’s photo radar is a cash cow by reiterating the fact people are speeding. “If you’ve got sites where people are speeding in those areas more often, to me the question is even bigger: Why are they not getting the message they shouldn’t be speeding there?” Oyarzun said. “Some of the speeds that they’re tracking there; if it’s a 50 kilometre zone and we’re getting 121 and 110 and 125 – that is a safety concern, I don’t care where it is.”
Oyarzun said she is not grasping the full concept of cash cow that many residents, including O’Brien and his group, have. “Maybe because I’m looking at it from a very holistic perspective in that it doesn’t matter where the photo radar is; if you’re speeding, you’re speeding,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where it is.”
But while in favour in principal of placing photo radar in areas where high speeds are typical, she’s quick to point out safety issues must be part of the program. “That’s the question I have and I need addressed to ensure we are getting good coverage across the whole town in other areas that are also dealing with safety,” Oyarzun said, adding 100 Avenue is one area that needs to be considered in the big picture plan. “That’s a wide open road.”
Where does the money go?
But O’Brien and his group maintain photo radar is a cash cow, one in which they believe the contractor receives 40 per cent of the ticket, the Town of Morinville 40 per cent and the province 20 per cent. They wonder just where the Town’s cut of the take is going.
Although Oyarzun confirmed ITS do receive a percentage of the ticket value, she declined to reveal what that percentage was due to confidentialities of the legal agreement. Determining just where the money goes is a little easier to identify. The Town of Morinville’s proceeds from its photo radar currently fund three things in a priority order. The first priority is funding Morinville’s Traffic Safety Initiative. This was passed Feb. 9, 2010 with a 4-2 vote of Council. As a result, 2 per cent of traffic enforcement revenue to a maximum of $8,000 per year is applied to the initiative with the fund not to exceed $16,000 at any time. Two weeks later, Council authorized funding the Town’s capital reserves for capital projects in the amount of $250,000 per annum from traffic enforcement revenues. In April of 2011, just prior to the opening of the Morinville Community Cultural Centre, the current Council approved using additional traffic enforcement revenues to pay the approximately $3 million debenture on the new facility.