Winnipeg Police Service toasts a record-breaking $14 million in photo-radar fines for 2014
School zones where there are no schools. Construction zones where there is no construction. And an entire city plagued by hundreds of broken, missing and hidden speed signs.
As the Winnipeg Police Service toasts a record-breaking $14 million in photo-radar fines for 2014, a diehard band of local activists are arguing it is merely the latest mark of a city gone mad with traffic tickets.
“There’s no way it’s accidental,” said Chris Sweryda, researcher for Wise Up Winnipeg, a group dedicated to opposing what they call the “deliberate deception” of the city’s traffic-enforcement program.
Photo-radar revenue topped $14.6 million in 2014, according to a new financial report by the Winnipeg Police. It represents a dramatic increase of 25% over 2013, and is the equivalent of a $22 ticket issued to every man, woman and child in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg also took in $4.5 million in traditional, non-photo-radar traffic tickets.
Last year was the first in which Winnipeg school zones dropped to 30 km/h, and in which speed fines doubled in construction zones. In comments to local media, city officials blamed the “behaviour of drivers” for the unexpected rise in traffic fines.
“Unfortunately, there were too many people speeding through school zones,” Coun. Scott Gillingham, chairman of the Winnipeg police board, told Global News this week.
Sweryda, who for years has maintained a near-obsessive vigil of the Manitoba capital’s traffic infrastructure, said that thousands of drivers are being unwittingly duped into photo-radar violations by a city-wide regime of shoddy infrastructure.
He’s documented speed signs that are non-reflective, obscured by bushes or placed at wildly hard-to-spot locations, such as five metres up a pole or on a patch of grass more than 11 metres away from the roadway.
In one 2012 count, Sweryda found more than 200 missing school-zone signs.
He has also parsed the regulations on construction-zone signage and photographed construction zones where signs were either missing or tipped over and frozen to the ground, giving drivers almost no warning to slow down.
“They’re catching people that have no idea they’re in a construction zone,” he said. Meanwhile, in parts of downtown, abandoned orange signs loom over sections of road long devoid of construction.
Sweryda has also delved into city reports and found that speed limits are kept low in defiance of engineering studies. City-commissioned traffic reports, for instance, found that two busy thoroughfares — Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard — should be signed at 60 km/h.
They have nevertheless remained at 50 km/h — and have subsequently become “ticket hotspots.”
“The real scandal is that the legal speed limit has been set far too low, leading to annoying and inappropriate enforcement,” wrote Ted Clarke, the city’s former director of streets and transportation, in a 2011 letter to the Winnipeg Free Press.
The suspiciously high level of ticketing has been noticed by plenty of others Winnipeggers, leading to accusations that the city’s police are under city-hall pressure to meet ticket quotas.
“There certainly is pressure being placed on the police from certain quarters of civic government to come back with certain expectations in terms of funding,” Mike Sutherland, then-president of the Winnipeg Police Association, told the National Post in 2012.
Although Winnipeg denies that its officers are being issued with set targets, in its 2014 financial report, Winnipeg Police do bemoan the fact that traditional traffic enforcement had “fallen short of budget over the last number of years.”
The spike in photo-radar tickets, meanwhile, is itemized as a “cost-saving initiative.”
Most notably, in 2012, the city’s operating budget included a line item that effectively tasked police with issuing an additional $1.4 million in traffic tickets.
When reporters pressed then-police chief Keith McCaskill about the budget, he replied, “As far as I’m concerned, we’ll always look at traffic enforcement as a safety issue.”
Safety data is almost non-existent, however.
In 2011, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation drafted a report finding that red-light cameras had helped to cut down “T-bone” crashes at intersections, but “it was not possible to draw any meaningful conclusions about the effectiveness of mobile photo radar.”
Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel with the Winnipeg Police Service’s Central Traffic Unit said they do not compile data on the total number of Winnipeg collisions, “nor do I think it would be easy.”
He did note that Winnipeg had 21 fatal collisions in 2012, eight in 2013 and 10 in 2014.
Coun. Ross Eadie, a member of the Winnipeg Police Board, wrote in an email to the National Post, “I will just say, as a pedestrian and councillor for many pedestrians in my ward, the cameras do make the streets safer for pedestrians.”
According to Wise Up Winnipeg founder Todd Dube, this is the year his group will get “aggressive” with public campaigns and videos to “widely expose this program and end this abuse.”
More than 800 people have already signed onto a new petition calling to “fix Winnipeg’s speed-limit signs.” Once it tops 5,000, Dube and his group plan to stage a hundreds-strong march to carry it to the mayor’s office.
As the petition writes, “getting ticketed for speeding needs to mean you were actually driving dangerously and were given a chance to know the limit.”