The Silver Lining to Baltimore’s Speed Camera Fiasco

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I don’t mean to be dramatic, but “fiasco” does seem to be the right word for what happened with Baltimore’s speed cameras. They were meant to be an easy way for the city to regulate drivers (and earn a little extra money via fees), but instead they were often very wrong and very expensive. But there actually might be a silver lining to all this.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the speed cameras were flat-out wrong 10 percent of the time, and “questionable” 26 percent of the time.  “The city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million,” the Sun pointed out — and that’s not even factoring in the “questionable” tickets.

It’s not only Baltimore drivers who lost money on these messed-up cameras; it’s also the city, which paid $278,000 on an audit to determine just how messed-up the cameras were. So how does this become a happy story again?

Well, as the Atlantic Cities notes, just reverse the incentives. One reason Xerox, the company that made the speed cameras, may have been over-eager in its ticket issuing is that the company got a cut of each fine. In other words, the more tickets issued, the more money the company made. Clearly, their incentive was to give as many tickets to as many people as possible. But a new bill pending in the Maryland legislature would switch that around, and charge the company $1,000 for every incorrect citation. Then they might not be so quick to issue tickets willy-nilly. Oh, and the city might make some more money, too.

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