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End traffic tax injustice

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12May

By Graham Lane
Published by the Winnipeg Sun on May 11, 2017

Manitoba isn’t a friendly place for automobile drivers. The ongoing shakedown of Manitoba drivers by Canada’s highest traffic fines and Winnipeg’s scandalously ravenous photo-radar system abuse all notions of fair play. Not surprisingly, this has energized a lobby group representing aggrieved drivers, Wise Up Winnipeg, while causing a flood of legal actions clogging up an increasingly swamped court system.

Winnipeg’s photo enforcement program vacuums $50 million dollars a year from the pockets of vehicle owners while increasing not decreasing collisions — a perversely opposite result to the touted objective of reducing accidents and injuries. Critics claim photo-enforcement programs are not effective at achieving safety goals. Governments love them. The programs are cash cows posturing as sound policy protecting the citizenry. Winnipeg’s program is exceptional: no other Canadian city, says Wise Up Winnipeg’s Chris Sweryda, deliberately raises vast revenues by taking advantage of unique traffic engineering deficiencies.

Winnipeg’s photo-radar and speed enforcement is a brazen cash cow: For three reasons.

First, Winnipeg employs much shorter amber times, four seconds, in higher speed intersections than other cities. The majority of red-light infractions occur within the first three-tenths of a second into a red light. In other cities the light would not be red for a further second or more. Worse, no other Canadian city sets a four second amber light-time at all intersections, regardless of the speed limit. Winnipeg nets 800% more of red-light “runners” from 80 km/h zones than at slower speed intersections (where four second amber lights allows drivers time to stop safely without skidding into the intersection).

MPI data shows that higher speed intersections dominate their collision list, particularly for rear-end crashes. Alarmingly, Winnipeg does not have Advanced Warning Flashers on most 80 km/h intersections as other cities do (including other Manitoba cities). This has been a recipe for avoidable accidents and injuries, as reflected in the insurer’s data for years.

Second, no other Canadian city ignores engineering standards. They recommend dual-signing (i.e. on both sides of divided roads) warning drivers of coming speed limit reductions. The police locate “lucrative” speed traps at these places.

Finally, Winnipeg’s photo-radar program and traditional traffic enforcement have been targeting specific stretches of roads, roads identified in the city’s own engineering studies allowing natural higher but safe speed experiences than the limits artificially set by city hall.

What should be done about this blatant revenue grab?

To begin with, the Pallister government should enforce the provincial “Condition of Authority” agreement that provincial document requires the city to submit evidence annually that its traffic safety program — now raking in the fines — has reduced collisions and injuries. The city has failed to meet this central requirement for 13 years.

The now-deposed NDP was the architect of what remains Canada’s most egregious traffic fine tax system — with average Manitoba traffic fines more than double the Canadian average. The PC government should start by rolling traffic fines back to the Canadian average, then not enable photo enforcement until the city adheres to traffic engineering standards. This, in the name of actual motoring safety rather than revenue generation.

As it exists, Winnipeg’s traffic program is a perverse system designed to bring in money, not bring about safety.

— Graham Lane chairs Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca)

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