With more than 50 traffic cameras now up and running around Baltimore, the city has installed at least 15 more than Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office said would be placed along city roads back in March.
Pugh had originally called for 36 cameras in total to be installed — 10 fixed-speed, 10 portable speed, 10 red-light enforcement and as many as six for commercial truck enforcement – when her preliminary budget revealed in late March that she wanted to bring an automated ticketing system to Baltimore. The budget line predicted revenue of roughly $7.9 million from automated tickets.
But that’s the number that are merely being activated today. Cameras in 36 locations are being switched on, 15 of them monitoring speed and 21 of them monitoring compliance with traffic lights.
The Department of Transportation activated its first batch of 10 speed cameras in June, and followed with a set of eight red light cameras in late July. Both came with warning periods that have since expired. A speeding violation now costs $40, while a red light violation costs $75. Drivers receive tickets in the mail. (Note: Only those photographed going 12 mph over the limit get a speeding ticket.)
Each new camera location is vetted by a committee made up of DOT staff, police and other personnel, said Robert Liberati, director of the city’s Automated Traffic Violation Enforcement System.
Six commercial truck enforcement cameras are also on the way. Those will issue tickets on a sliding scale – i.e., bigger fines for additional violations – to commercial drivers who travel on unauthorized roads. The mayor’s office originally said it would install as many as six. DOT officials haven’t disclosed where those will go just yet, but Liberati said the number remains capped at six under Maryland law.
The speed and red light camera numbers are elastic, however. Liberati confirmed the city now has 51 traffic cameras up and running, including the 36 new locations. All of them are posted on the department’s website. The total number is now 42 percent higher than the number Pugh originally proposed.
Liberati said in an interview that the city has installed more cameras to meet demand. “First of all, the number 36 came from the minimum number of cameras that was in the request for proposals” sent out by the mayor’s office initially, he said. “Through our process of vetting locations and so forth, we have gotten more requests than 36.”
Requests have come from internally DOT staff, council members and city residents. “We field a lot of phone calls from citizens that are just fed up with their cars being struck out front, or issues in front of schools with cars not yielding to students or pedestrians,” Liberati said.
Nevertheless, the spike in cameras could be concerning to Baltimoreans, particularly because of the city’s shaky history with too-big-to-manage traffic enforcement systems.
The last time Baltimore tried to run its own automated ticketing system, the devices went awry and began issuing erroneous tickets to drivers who hadn’t actually committed violations. The following year, after it had been scrapped, city officials testified that Baltimore had more than 160 cameras up and running, with not enough city staff to management all of them, according to a 2014 Baltimore Sun report.
Unlike in that system, where operator Xerox was receiving a share of the revenue from issued tickets, the city is now paying a flat fee to the companies running the cameras. American Traffic Solutions, based in Arizona, is being paid $5.4 million to operate the speed and commercial-truck enforcement cams over a five-year period. Conduent, Inc., a New Jersey-based subsidiary of Xerox, is getting $4.2 million to operate the red light cameras.
On the first day the speed cameras began operating this summer, a technical error caused speed cameras to issue duplicate tickets for 962 drivers. All of them were vacated.
Pugh spokesman Anthony McCarthy hasn’t returned email and phone messages requesting comment on the expansion of the traffic camera system.
Liberati said the city is keeping concerns about any unchecked expansion of the traffic camera system in mind.
“We have learned from that, and we want to make sure that we don’t make those mistakes again,” he said. “I think we’re being extremely careful with making sure that we’ve got a factual base to use to put our cameras out there,” he said.
Click here to view the DOT’s map of traffic cameras operating within the city limits.
This story has been updated with comment from the Department of Transportation.
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