Morinville changes photo radar policy seen by mayor as ‘cash cow’

Click to play video: 'Morinville takes new approach to photo radar tickets but Edmonton officials say not to expect changes in Alberta’s capital'
Morinville takes new approach to photo radar tickets but Edmonton officials say not to expect changes in Alberta’s capital
WATCH ABOVE: The mayor of Morinville says photo radar tickets can be a cash cow so her town recently switched up the way it uses photo radar to make it more transparent. But as Kent Morrison reports, the City of Edmonton says nothing needs to change. – Sep 14, 2016

It’s a topic that every driver seems to have an opinion on: photo radar. Is it a cash cow? Or is it a useful traffic safety technique to get drivers to slow down?

Morinville, a town located about 40 minutes north of Edmonton, recently changed the way it runs its photo radar program because the mayor thought it was coming off to residents as a bit of a cash cow.

“They were getting more revenue out of certain sites in Morinville and that’s where they seemed to be,” Lisa Holmes said of photo radar vehicles.

“Our program was operating in a way previously that could be determined as a cash cow.”

In 2014, the town nearly abolished photo radar altogether. Residents fed up with the way the program was being run went to council with a petition calling for an end to photo radar.

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The petition pushed a plebiscite vote, asking residents whether or not to keep photo radar on Morinville streets. A total of 1,179 residents cast a ballot, with 55 per cent of them voting to keep photo radar.

“Our program really was having issues,” Holmes said.

READ MORE: Photo radar to remain a traffic enforcement tool in Morinville

Morinville’s photo radar policy now goes beyond what’s required by Alberta law. The community does not use hidden cameras, all vehicles must be clearly marked as photo radar enforcement and vehicles must spend a certain percentage of their time in vulnerable areas like school and playground zones.

“I didn’t feel comfortable that it was the most transparent that it could be,” Holmes said.

Here in Edmonton, things are run a little differently. Photo radar vehicles are often unmarked and hidden, and the city recently announced it is re-introducing disguised photo radar boxes as a tool to catch speeders.

“Statistically, we know that this program is… saving lives of Edmontonians,” Gerry Shimko, executive director of the City of Edmonton’s Office of Traffic Safety, said.

READ MORE: Huge spike in photo radar tickets for 6-10km/h over speed limit

Shimko said the city uses a “science-based” approach to reduce collisions and injuries on Edmonton streets, which has seen the number of injuries fall from 11.3 per thousand crashes in 2014 to fewer than four per thousand crashes last month.

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“It works in combination. You need to have covert and overt vehicles,” he said. “You can have whatever you want in your community but if you want the best results, you want to save lives that’s what the research is telling us what we need to use and that’s what we’re applying.

READ MORE: Suspect throws rock at photo radar van on Whitemud Drive

On council, though, views on the program are mixed.

“I’ve always maintained that photo radar has been a cash grab, since the start of my career,” Ward 11 councillor Mike Nickel said, adding people continue to speed through school zones even though photo radar is present.

“The fact of the matter is, if you really want to change people’s behaviour, you have to give out demerits.”

READ MORE: Photo radar: cash cow or safety initiative?

Ward 1’s Andrew Knack believes, if in the right location, photo radar works.

“Where they were using it on the Henday they saw a 33 per cent reduction in serious collisions. That’s a tangible impact to using that in a location that, I know people sometimes get frustrated in, but they actually had the evidence to back it up.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton councillor speaks out about controversial photo radar spot

Back in Morinville, Holmes said photo radar revenue has dropped since the policy change came into effect last month, but she’s OK with it as long as it leads to safer streets.

Before the policy change, Morinville was bringing in roughly $300,000 per year through photo radar. The City of Edmonton made about $47 million in automated enforcement last year, all of which goes back into traffic safety programs and the Edmonton Police Service.

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