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Speed camera not a money grab, says region

How fast do drivers have to be travelling in the Niagara Stone Road community safety zone? It's a 'modest threshold,' but the region isn't saying what that is.
speed-camera-jan-17
A speed camera on Niagara Stone Road began operating when students returned to school in January.

The speed camera on Niagara Stone Road and the details of how it operates have been a topic of discussion among Niagara-on-the-Lake residents since early this year, when the camera became operational.

Some of the questions are whether drivers can be caught speeding in both directions, at what speed tickets will be issued, and where the revenue from those tickets ends up.

Also, since the program got underway locally on Jan. 7, drivers who regularly use the stretch of road in front of Crossroads School may also be wondering whether their tickets will be arriving in the mail in the coming weeks, how many, and how much it will cost them.

Scott Fraser, Niagara Region’s associate director of transportation, provided some of the answers to The Local, but others he is unwilling to share, or unable to because he just doesn’t have the information yet.

Although there are warning signs on both sides of Niagara Stone Road through the community safety zone in Virgil, the camera only records the speed of vehicles travelling south, he says.

However Fraser is not about to divulge the speed at which drivers will be ticketed — that is determined by the province, and won’t be released to the public. “It’s fair to say it’s a modest threshold,” he says, adding he doesn’t want to create an impression that it’s okay to speed within that threshold, and he reminds drivers the speed limit, 40 km/h from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m on school days and 50 km/h at other times, is there to be followed at all times.

The Ontario provincial offences website says the fine for speeding from one to 19 km/h through a community safety zone is $5 per kilometre, and the amount goes up according to the excess speed. The fine will also include a victim surcharge, which is an amount based on the set fine, and a $5 court cost.

Some drivers might be surprised to learn that while they may consider the tickets “a money grab” for the region, the revenue is first spent on the cost of the program, and any money left over is divided 50/50 between the region and the 12 Niagara municipalities, not based on the number of tickets recorded, but on property value assessment.

“And all revenue from the program received by the region and municipalities is required to be spent on road safety initiatives,” Fraser says.

The automated speed enforcement program is part of the region’s Vision Zero road safety initiative, with a goal of eliminating serious or fatal incidents, and reducing all collisions. It includes the red light program, which is at work in other areas across the region but has not yet made its way to NOTL.

While the community safety zone cameras are being moved every 90 days through Niagara municipalities, the red light cameras will remain in place.

Niagara has four speed cameras rotating across the region, which have so far been used only in front of schools or near an access road to a school, Fraser explains. On its next rotation, the camera on Niagara Stone Road will move to York Road in front of St. Davids Public School, monitoring speeds from Queenston Road to Concession 3.

The financial model of the program is that the camera vendor, Verra Mobility, an Arizona transportation tech company, receives their daily rental fee for the cameras, along with the cost of installation, operation and maintenance. They do not receive a portion of the revenue from tickets.

Other operational costs, such as provincial offence court fees and the review of images to determine who is fined, are also covered by the ticket revenue, says Fraser.

The images captured by the cameras are sent to a joint processing centre in Toronto that serves all automated speed enforcement programs in Ontario, and there it is decided whether the evidence supports a violation being issued.

Fraser explains that Ontario municipalities planning to adopt the program worked together on a request for proposals through a cooperative procurement process, “so we could all share and pool our resources to acquire this system. We partner with the City of Toronto and other municipalities as part of that contract, and we all make a contribution to the joint processing centre to have the City of Toronto process the images on our behalf.”

It’s too early for the region to know how much will be recovered in revenue,“because we are still very much in the early days of the program,” says Fraser. “We initiated the automated speed enforcement program rotation in September and are still in the process of collecting that early information.”

His department “will go back to the region’s public works committee early in Q2 of this year, and that’s when we’ll be sharing our preliminary assessments of how the program’s been running, what safety benefits we’ve seen from the program, as well as the stats we’re seeing of the number of charges this year.”

The information, he adds, is coming from status reports of the cameras themselves, from the joint processing centre, “and most critically from our own independent data collection to be able to demonstrate the safety benefits associated with the camera.”

“We’re completing before, during and after assessments of speed and road safety improvements as we roll the cameras out,” he continues, “and that’s taking place not only where the cameras are located but also on other parallel routes, to demonstrate that the benefits associated with the camera are directly related to the camera being in place.”

Before adopting the program, municipalities were able to look at statistics where it has been used in other areas, says Fraser, and ultimately, as a result of a “rigorous, detailed analysis based on the best research and large-size studies,” it was decided to try it across Niagara.

The region has been exploring the use of photo radar to improve road safety for several years, based on changes in provincial legislation that allow it. A September 2022 report discussing implementing the program in Niagara said all schools with entrances on regional roads had been analyzed, including the operating speed of vehicles, which was found to be about 14km/h over the posted speed within the school zones.

Collision analysis in Niagara school zones showed an average of 5.6 collisions per location per year.

Although there may be criticism of the speed cameras around the region, Fraser says he has also heard a positive reaction. “I hear a lot of support, and a number of requests for additional cameras. It’s not just push-back.”

The speed cameras will be considered successful when the results “demonstrate the safety benefits of the cameras being present, and hopefully a lasting change in driver behaviour,” he says, and also when there are no violations and no revenue from tickets “because people are obeying the speed limit on our roads.”




About the Author: Penny Coles

Penny Coles is editor of Niagara-on-the-Lake Local
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