Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Photo radar in Toronto about cash grab, not public safety
In a Monday morning news conference with Premier Kathleen Wynne, the mayor announced that he is asking the provincial government to grant Toronto a special power to install traffic cameras and photo radar.
Tory explained his request for the power to monitor and ticket Toronto drivers using traffic cameras by citing “police budgetary” and public safety concerns.
Certainly, there are police budgetary concerns in Toronto. Over half of Toronto Police employees are on the Sunshine List, earning more than $100,000. Policing costs are the single biggest item in the city budget, this year accounting for more than $1 billion of Toronto’s $10.1-billion budget.
But instead of making changes to bring the police budget under control, the Toronto Police Services Board buried a $200,000 KPMG report aimed at controlling ballooning costs, and then council approved a nearly 2.5% increase in the police budget.
Where did the money for this bump in the police budget come from? Taxpayers, of course. Rather than accepting the recommendations of the report they commissioned, or adopting Councillor Michael Thompson’s motions for cuts to the police budget of between $12 and $24 million, city council approved a property tax hike.
Tory needs the political courage to actually tackle the issue of out-of-control policing costs, and the solution is not traffic cameras.
Traffic cameras are not about cost savings, they are about revenue generation.
When traffic cameras were introduced in Chicago in 2014, the city saw an $8-million revenue bump as a result of all the additional tickets that would not have been possible without the devices.
Nor are the cameras really about public safety.
Tory has suggested that the cameras would be deployed in school zones or areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. It’s hard to argue with public safety when the mayor conjures tragic images of injured schoolchildren, but the truth is that the safety value of these cameras is unclear, and when you give politicians an inch, they take a mile.
Tory won’t be mayor forever, and it’s safe to bet that if Toronto gets a special power to use traffic cameras, those cameras will inevitably make their way into the congested streets of the downtown core. You may find yourself automatically ticketed when trying to make a left through an amber light, or when another driver gets you stuck at the edge of the intersection when the light changes.
The cameras can also change driving habits, and force rear-end collisions as drivers are less likely to go through an amber light out of fear of a ticket.
Worse, in Chicago, the city intentionally shortened the length of amber lights so that the traffic cameras would catch more drivers and tickets would generate more money for the city.
The premier has not yet committed to allowing traffic cameras in Toronto, but she said she is “open to working with the City of Toronto on the request,” and also cited the high cost of policing.
It’s a request that should be denied. If there is a concern about police budgets, those issues should be tackled head on. The mayor needs to stop falling back on the citizens of Toronto for more money.
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