Drop in speeding takes toll on Bowie revenue

November 8, 2012

A decline in revenue from speed cameras could jeopardize Bowie efforts funded through citation fees.

City officials said they expect the revenue from the cameras to drop from about $2.86 million in fiscal year 2012 to about $2.33 million in the current fiscal year, as motorists become more familiar with the cameras’ locations and begin slowing down to avoid fines.

“It’s probably the most volatile revenue source we have,” Rob Patrick, director of Bowie’s finance department, said of revenue from the 14 speed camera sites in the city. “It’s not a solid revenue source that we can count on all that much.”

All of the speed camera locations are near county schools as state laws requires them to be within a half mile radius of a school’s location. The cameras take photos of vehicles traveling at 12 miles or more above the posted speed limit, and a $40 citation is mailed to the vehicle’s owner.

The city partners with the Connecticut-based Xerox company, which maintains the cameras and receives about $16.25 for every $40 ticket, Patrick said. In the last fiscal year, the city’s slice of the revenue was about $1.74 million and this year is expected to be about $1.39 million.

In 2011, the city issued 108,798 speed camera citations; this year, as of Sept. 30, there have been 39,542 citations issued. By the end of the year, officials anticipate a 40 percent drop in speed camera revenue, said Bowie Police Chief John Nesky.

As revenue dips from the cameras, the city will have to make up for the loss through other means, perhaps through increasing tax revenue or by trimming other areas, Patrick said.

The revenue from the cameras helps offset the cost of maintaining the police department, Patrick said. The city has a roughly $53 million budget; the money from speed cameras is rolled into the city’s police budget, which this fiscal year is about $8.5 million, according to city documents. The revenue provides for public safety measures ranging from maintaining the city’s bike patrols to extending sidewalks in parts of the city, Nesky said.

The speed cameras were introduced in Bowie in June 2010. In their first full year of operation, the cameras resulted in $2.6 million in revenue, from which the city received about $1.55 million.

The expected drop in revenue comes as speeding has slowed dramatically at some former hot spots, Nesky said.

Near Bowie High School on state Route 450, about 30 percent of those traveling the roadway prior to the installation of speed cameras were speeding, according to Nesky; now, only about 1 percent are in violation, he said.

The area in which cameras operate on Md. 197, near Rockledge Elementary School, has seen a similar drop, as the number of speeders dropped from approximately 57 percent of all motorists on the roadway to roughly 1 percent, Nesky said.

While the city has about 14 locations where speed cameras can be mounted, not all are in use at any given time. Xerox has 10 cameras it rotates throughout the various boxy containers that hold the cameras. The boxes remain in place even when not armed with a camera, meaning motorists may see the boxes, however, they don’t know whether there is a camera inside, Nesky said.

The decrease in revenue from the camera program remains something the city and the Xerox company continue to monitor, said David Deutsch, Bowie city manager.

Across the region, traffic cameras have been a blessing to government’s budgets, said M. Sammye Miller, a Bowie State University professor who has been the school’s chairman of the history and government department for 30 years.

“It’s been tremendous for the entire metropolitan area,” he said. “It has filled the coffers.”

Cameras are particularly beneficial to municipalities because they require little manpower and investment to maintain, Miller said.

“You’re not talking about a paid employee [out there],” he said. “They’re getting money from a machine.”

The drop in speeding is part of the point of the program, Nesky said, adding that although the cameras scan only a short stretch of a roadway, they could encourage safer driving overall.

“I’m happy,” he said. “That’s what the purpose of the program is. This has been a great force multiplier for us with getting people to change their behavior.”

The drop in speeding on Md. 197 near Rockledge Elementary School has been witnessed by those who live near the speed camera, said Jennifer Schumacher, who lives near Rockledge Elementary. Schumacher has seen a significant decrease in speeding since the cameras were implemented near her home, she said.

“I’ve noticed that people slow down significantly when they’re approaching those cameras,” she said. ”...It was a very, very fast road. Things have slowed down a lot.”

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