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Money from Maryland speed cameras goes to contractor

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Cameras across our region are collecting millions of dollars in fines. Many of us may assume all of that money goes back into the government. ABC7 discovered that is not the case.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has five cameras that have brought in $15.8 million since 2009. One camera on I-95 issued more than 200,000 tickets since late that year.

The state has made $11.4 million in profits of the program, which have been put into the state police fund. Administrative and maintenance costs run $1.5 million. Approximately $4 million has yet to be collected from unpaid tickets or tickets that were challenged and dismissed.

Part of profits goes to a contractor

The rest, more than 18 percent of the revenue, goes to the contractor who runs the program. This amounts to $2.9 million so far.

For that money, a company called Affiliated Computer Services, Inc., that is owned by Xerox, operates a call center for questions, processes payments, interfaces with the state computer systems, as well as the court's scheduling system for court dates. Even though the contract doesn't allow for the contractor to be paid per ticket, when you crunch the numbers, ACS gets more than $7 per $40 ticket.

“They handle the hiring of the people, the buying of the vehicles, the equipment, the management of the interface with the people, the call center, and the processing of the tickets,” said Valerie Burnette Edgar of the Maryland highway administration.

She added the amount paid to the vendor is based on the number of cameras used and the number of days in use.

“I think it’s highway robbery, I didn't know they contracted them out, I thought all that money was going to the state,” motorist Laverne Gilmore said.

Drop in speeding where cameras are positioned

State officials say they've seen the number of vehicles going through work zones at more than 10 miles over the limit drop by half when the cameras are present.

The contractor, too, points to the safety benefits. “Numerous surveys, including one by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, prove photo enforcement systems save lives,” the company said in a statement.

“ACS continually invests in innovative technology to help keep our roads safe from people breaking the law,” the company said. “Continuing to invest in life saving technology is part of our mission at ACS.”

Montgomery County: Contractor receives 40 percent

In Montgomery County, there are 72 speed cameras operated by the same contractor. The county spent more than $6 million on the program, and cameras issued more than 290,000 tickets in fiscal year 2010, according to data provided by the Montgomery County Police Department.

More than $9 million in revenue were collected through the speed cameras in fiscal year 2010. The money went to the county general fund and was allocated to police, fire and rescue service and the county department of transportation, which used it to fix roads, enforce traffic and add officers at certain times for speed enforcement, said Capt. Paul Starks of the MCPD.

ACS received $5.8 million of program funds, which amounts to 40 percent or $16.25 per ticket. The company wouldn't say how much of that was profit and how much went to its expenses.

“I expect top quality service so you have to be willing to pay a fair and reasonable amount if you're going to carry that level of expectation,” said Capt. Thomas Didone of the Montgomery County Police Department.

Officials say the cameras slow drivers down, and contracting out is cost effective. ACS’s website lists as one of its selling points for the cameras that they’re "a proven way to increase revenue."

County Police instead point to increased safety from the speeding enforcement, and Capt. Didone has the numbers to back it up. He said two speed cameras placed at Woodfield Elementary School in Gaithersburg showed a significant decline in violations, from 20,000 in fiscal year 2008 to less than 4,000 last year.

Cameras in Poolesville initially found 47 percent of traffic passing them to be going fast enough to trigger the camera, he said. The number is now down to 2.8 percent of vehicles.

‘If you want to avoid the fine, don’t speed’

To trigger the camera you have be traveling at least 12 miles over the posted limit. Each citation costs $40 and carries no points. A ticket from a Trooper, on the other hand, would cost $160 and 2 points on your license for travelling 10 to 19 miles over the speed limit.

Says SHA’s Burnette Edgar, "If you want to avoid paying this fine, don't exceed the speed limit."

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