April 26, 2006
Politicians couldn't resist the money

If city councillors are looking for a sure-fire way to kill the police photo enforcement program, they've found it.

City hall is proposing to scale back a plan to install 60 red-light cameras around the city in favour of adding more photo radar vans on the streets.

The reason? They're not making as much money from photo enforcement as some senior bureaucrats at city hall wanted.

Photo radar vans make way more money for city coffers than red light cameras. So they're going to ditch plans to install the last 12 intersection cameras and put more vans on the street instead.

The move has nothing to do with safety. It's not intended to discourage speeding or to crack down on red-light running. It's designed purely to make more money.

So they've turned a safety program -- which it was originally designed as -- into a revenue generating tool.

Photo radar is now officially a cash grab.

I know some people have viewed it as such from the very beginning, including the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, which said five years ago that no good could come of photo radar.

They argued politicians couldn't be trusted with this kind of potential money maker. And as sure as the day is long, they would abuse it, the CTF argued.

They were right. And I -- a longtime supporter of photo enforcement -- was wrong.

I thought with the right legislation in place, police could keep the focus on safety and not allow the politicians to turn it into a cash cow.

Nope. The politicians couldn't resist the cash and as sure as a bear poops in the woods, they're turning it into a money maker.

It never was supposed to be. It was never intended to make money.

"Our hope is it breaks even," said Winnipeg police Insp. Shelley Hart on Aug. 15, 2002.

"We don't want to make money on this," then-mayor Glen Murray said Nov. 6, 2002. "We want to reduce fatalities and save lives."

"It's not known how much revenue photo enforcement will generate for the city, but surplus is earmarked to hire more police officers," then Sun cop reporter Cary Castagna wrote Oct. 31, 2002.

In fact, the senior cop that rolled out the program in 2002 warned nearly five years ago that if photo enforcement ever became a big money maker that it would fail.

"If you use this kind of thing to generate cash you're going to lose it," Sgt. Jon Butcher said in June 2001.

Nobody knew how much money it would make -- if any -- because there were no reliable estimates on the number of motorists who would speed through intersections or past photo radar vans.

The hope was that it would at least pay for itself. And the intention was to keep the focus on safety, not to use it as a cash grab.

Despite that, senior bureaucrats at city hall decided to budget some $8 million a year in profits from photo enforcement, even though cops were telling them there was no reliable estimate.

And now that the big money hasn't come through, city hall wants to change the program, not to enhance safety, but to make more money.

They couldn't help themselves.

What the province should do is pass legislation banning photo radar vans, but keep red-light cameras.

Apparently the morons at city hall just can't handle the responsibility of photo radar