Whenever the province gets around to legalizing photo radar, Halifax wants to be ready.
Last fall, the city’s Department of Transportation and Public Works hired a consultant to study the potential use of photo radar to enforce speed limits in HRM. The consultant, Ontario-based Stewart Solutions Inc., submitted the completed study in January, and municipal staff presented it to council’s virtual meeting on Tuesday.
The study contains 62 recommendations, and gives HRM the green light to go ahead with photo enforcement, but not red light violations.
“In conclusion, the use by HRM of photo enforcement would appear to be feasible, including financially, to detect and enforce the offence of speeding. To achieve this HRM staff and road safety partners, including the two police services, will need to develop working groups in a collaborative relationship and dialogue with provincial staff,” the consultants wrote.
That work will take up to four years, and that timeline is expected to match up with the proclamation of the provincial Traffic Safety Act (TSA).
That act, passed in the legislature in 2018, is a replacement for the outdated Motor Vehicle Act (MVA). The MVA only allows tickets to be written to drivers, not the vehicle owner. The new TSA contains language allowing municipalities to use photo radar to identify speeding vehicles and ticket their owners. Municipal staff believed the new Act would be proclaimed by now, but in October, the province announced it needed to work through the regulations and information technology first, and it would be another three or four years.
And while the MVA contains a provision allowing for a photo radar pilot project, the consultants recommended waiting for the TSA rather than fighting to implement a pilot.
The consultants recommended starting with eight cameras as part of a hybrid model, where the camera vendor owns and maintains the equipment and HRM handles the ticketing. The cameras would bring in about $3 million in annual revenue, but with start-up costs, the program would lose almost $500,000 in the first year. In subsequent years, the cameras would make between $425,000 and $575,000 annually.
Councillors were mostly supportive of the plan, and expressed their frustration that it can’t happen right away.
“We’re very frustrated it’s three to four years for the new Traffic Safety Act,” Coun. Tony Mancini said. “The previous provincial government told us the new Act was going to be in place in 2021 or at the very latest 2022. I’m not sure why the delay has happened. What this really means is that traffic calming and police enforcement will continue to be our tools to try to slow down traffic.”
Mancini tied photo enforcement to council’s police budget discussion. Chief Dan Kinsella proposed to hire eight new traffic constables and one new traffic sergeant. Councillors voted in favour of a smaller increase to the police budget, foregoing those hires.
“Hopefully once this photo enforcement program is in place we won’t need those officers, but in the meantime we don’t have enough officers to do that basic enforcement,” Mancini said.
The report from El Jones’ Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police recommended that council direct is upcoming policing review to “explore automating parts of its traffic enforcement,” and that council advocate for the proclamation of the Traffic Safety Act.
Councillors voted to direct staff “to develop a program of photo enforcement in anticipation of the eventual proclamation of the Traffic Safety Act and in accordance with the recommendations set out in the January 2022 consulting report prepared by Stewart Solutions Inc.”
Coun. Paul Russell was the only vote against the plan. He argued the municipality shouldn’t notify drivers of the location of the cameras. The consultants told him that transparency about the locations, typically including signage, makes it easier to prosecute speeding drivers.
On-demand accessible taxis en route
Council voted on Tuesday to award a $1.8-million contract for an on-demand accessible taxi service.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last year, the municipality decided to contract out the service because there aren’t enough accessible taxis in HRM to meet demand:
Due to the high cost of buying, maintaining and operating the vehicles, typically converted mini-vans, the numbers have been falling for years. According to the staff report to council by Morgan Cox, project planning coordinator, Halifax Transit, there were 56 accessible taxis in HRM in 2015, 19 in 2019, and now there are 11.
The municipality issued a request for proposals in the fall, seeking a contractor to operate 10 accessible vehicles across HRM, charging passengers a regular cab fare. It received a bid from one company, SeniorsTransit Inc. owned by Bailee Mackenzie Ewing, which already runs a sort of charter accessible transportation service.
The company plans to rebrand its accessible taxi service as Extra Care Accessible Transit. The service is expected to be up and running with four to eight weeks, starting with five vehicles.
Over three years, the maximum cost is budgeted at $1.8 million, but the exact numbers are dependent on the number of vehicles in use daily over the contract.
Council to debate ditch tax … again
Halifax Water’s stormwater right-of-way charge, better known as the ditch tax, is back up for debate.
In 2013, the Utility and Review Board ruled that HRM has to pay Halifax Water for stormwater runoff from its roads. The municipality toyed with a few different ways of recouping that money from Haligonians. For the past five years, it’s directed Halifax Water to collect the roughly $3.8 million by charging about 100,000 customers $40 annually.
A report to council’s meeting on Tuesday considered other options, but recommended keeping the status quo. Moving the charge to the general tax rate would increase the average residential property tax bill by $19, Andre MacNeil, senior financial consultant, wrote in the report.
Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace, who cut her political teeth on opposition to the ditch tax issue, said she was concerned about “gaps” in the report. She moved to defer a vote pending another staff report including “the principle of equity, considering not every property owner in the service area is a ratepayer;” input from Halifax Water on how many properties don’t pay; and the benefits and risk of the staff-recommended options.
“I think in light of the missing information that’s in this report, it would be, I think, irresponsible of us to make a decision right now until we get more information,” Lovelace said.
Coun. Sam Austin said he believes the charge should be moved to the tax bill, and he’s happy to debate it again.
Coun. Patty Cuttell suggested the motion should come back to committee of the whole, allowing councillors to fully debate the issue and speak more than twice.
Lovelace’s deferral passed.
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The lethargy in the system to implement auto enforcement measures such as photo radar is frustrating. It is costing tax payers too much now as expensive police resources could be deployed elsewhere. I would also hope that some key pedestrian crosswalk could have photo enforcement.
In a related note, the province needs to reinstate the front licence plate for cars and require commercial vehicles to display licence plates at the rear of the vehicle.