Montgomery County’s Speed Camera Profits Fall By $1.6 Million
Police attributed decrease to a change in how the county pays its vendor
A speed camera along southbound Connecticut Avenue in Montgomery County
Speed cameras remain lucrative for Montgomery County, but the cost of operating the devices rose in the previous fiscal year.
Data provided to Bethesda Beat from the Montgomery County Department of Police this month shows that in fiscal 2016, which ended June 30, the county’s speed cameras brought in $19.7 million in ticket revenue—$1 million more than the $18.7 million the cameras generated in fiscal 2015.
Despite the increase in revenue, however, the speed camera program generated $1.6 million less in profits in fiscal 2016 than in fiscal 2015—$8.6 million compared to $10.2 million. That’s largely because the program’s costs rose from $8.5 million in fiscal 2015 to $11.1 million in fiscal 2016. The $2.6 million increase in expenditures was the largest increase in the program’s expenses since it was initiated in 2006, according to speed camera revenue data.
Police data for speed and red light camera revenues through FY16. (Click to expand)
Capt. Tom Didone, who oversees the department’s traffic division, said the program’s increase in expenses was the result of the county switching to a flat-fee payment structure with the speed camera vendor—Xerox—rather than the previous per-paid citation format. Under the per-paid citation format, the county provided the vendor with $16.25 per $40 ticket issued, but only if the person paid the fine. Under the new payment system, the county pays Xerox a flat fee based on how many cameras the county uses per month, according to Didone. He declined to say how much the fee is because the county plans to put the speed camera contract out to bid in about a year and was concerned that revealing the fee may hurt the county’s negotiating position.
Didone said the contract change required the department to reconcile the outstanding balances it had with Xerox before making the change, which resulted in part of the increase in expenses and the subsequent drop in profits. However, he said he expects the annual payment to the vendor to remain larger than in previous years due to the flat fee contract. The county was required to switch to the flat fee system after a change in state law, according to Didone.
The county deployed about 175 speed cameras in fiscal 2016, according to statistics posted to the department’s website. The cameras generated 415,935 citations, about an 18 percent decrease from the 507,531 violations generated in fiscal 2015. Drivers are charged a fine of $40 for passing a camera at more than 12 miles above the speed limit.
The county continues to have the highest speed-camera revenues of any jurisdiction in Maryland, according to data collected by the state comptroller’s office. For example, Prince George’s County generated $4.6 million in profits on $8.5 million in revenue in fiscal 2015, the most recent year for which the comptroller has speed camera revenue figures, while Howard County collected $278,000 in profit on $891,600 in revenue that year.
Montgomery County’s program was recognized in a 2015 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for reducing the likelihood of fatal crashes in speed-camera corridors—roadways where cameras are deployed—by 39 percent on residential roads with speed limits between 25 to 35 mph.
“The cameras are one of the few things I can say has proactively changed behavior and worked to make the county’s roadways safer,” Didone said. “The bottom line is that the cameras have caused people to slow down.”
The county also employs a red-light camera program that generates revenue from tickets that are mailed to motorists after cameras catch them running red lights. In fiscal 2016 the red-light camera program’s profits dropped by about $500,000—from $2.8 million in fiscal 2015 to $2.34 million in fiscal 2016. The red-light program’s expenses rose nearly $600,000 in fiscal 2016—from $1.9 million in fiscal 2015 to $2.49 million in 2016.