The government of Saskatchewan has insisted from day one that its photo radar pilot project has never been about money, but one year into the two-year program we’re learning that revenue considerations may have been a factor.
Through a Freedom of Information request, News Talk Radio was able to uncover email exchanges between SGI and Regina police. In one such email, an employee of SGI asked senior officers within the Regina Police Service the following:
“I am wondering if you have had a chance to pick up to five school zones that you would like to run photo radar in. We need these locations for the financial analysis we are doing on the potential revenue that will be generated.”
News Talk Radio requested to see that information but we were denied.
Don McMorris, minister responsible for SGI, has insisted numerous times the program is not a cash grab. He couldn’t say whether those analyses were ever done and, if so, what they found.
“I’m not aware of that but what I would say is that they looked at school zones and see where people were speeding the most through and determine how do we try to reduce that.”
The first camera came online at Highway 1 and 9th Avenue in Moose Jaw on Nov. 14, 2014. A few weeks later, on Dec. 8, 2014 cameras at Highway 1 east between Pilot Butte and White City, Highway 12 at Martensville, Ring Road and Circle Drive followed suit and began taking photos. In addition, radar in certain school zones in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw were launched.
At that time, only warnings were handed out before live ticketing began on March 8, 2015.
From March 8 to Oct. 31, the province collected $6.6 million in revenue from the various locations. Of that, about $1.7 million is given to the Victims of Crime fund. Another $2.2 million is used for the expenses of the pilot dating back to November 2014 when the first location came online. The province also kept roughly $1.2 million for administration of the court and collection processes.
That leaves $1.5 million that would go to either the municipality or the province for traffic safety initiatives. McMorris said nothing concrete has been determined yet, but usually they focus on areas such as education, engineering and enforcement.
The minister believes, anecdotally speaking based on his observations, there are positive results from the program so far.
“We have seen I think a reduction in speed and certainly an awareness within the public,” he said. “The vast majority of people are following along with the program, reducing their speed and we hope in the future that will translate into reduced collisions, injuries and fatalities.”
The number of speeding violations seem to bounce up and down in Regina and Saskatoon from month to month according to figures from SGI.
Even though the pilot is halfway done, it’s not clear exactly what kind of criteria the province will evaluate to determine whether the program becomes permanent. McMorris said they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it, but did offer a glimpse into what will be assessed.
“We’re looking for a trend downward,” he indicated.
We don’t know if speed-related injuries, fatalities and collisions have been reduced at photo radar locations in 2015 as SGI does not yet have those stats available. McMorris said they’ll be examining the statistics when they do come out to see if those specific areas are trending downward while also seeing if vehicles are driving slower.
However, McMorris didn’t specify what would constitute as a downward trend, considering injury, death and crash numbers are relatively small when you compare the total number of vehicles travelling through radar locations. The percentage of vehicles that are in violation of speeding is usually less than 1 per cent according to SGI.
The crown corporation says the intent of the program is to calm traffic. McMorris repeated that sentiment.
“As we said from the outset, this isn’t about giving out tickets it’s about reducing speed,” he stated, although he’s also said in the past the pilot program is about making Saskatchewan roads safer.
The minister believes that if drivers are slowing down that will eventually translate into safer roads.
“I think we’re seeing a reduction of all speeds down to the norm. What I think we would see before is a great variance in speed and what we’re seeing now is more uniform speed which is usually the safest.”
He pointed out that even though traffic may be collectively going slower as a result of radar, serious collisions can still occur.
“Not that it can’t happen when it’s at 80 or 90 but the safety margin is certainly increased at that lower speed and I think that will be evident in the future when we look at statistics.”
Not All Violators Ticketed
The speeding threshold has always been determined by local police services. If someone is above that threshold, a ticket may be issued. Tickets are not issued if license plates are obscured by things like dirt, sun glare or a trailer hitch, there’s difficulty distinguishing characters like a ‘B’ from an ‘8’, or if there’s a discrepancy between the picture and registration information.
Speeding violations versus the number of tickets that are actually mailed out vary wildly.
Another Year Left in Pilot Program
The program is only approaching the halfway point. McMorris said after the two years is complete the province will take all the information, evaluate it and then respond accordingly.
“It’s still too early to tell as far trends,” he said.
The minister also said he would not rule out an extension to the pilot.