EDMONTON — Alberta is putting a freeze on more photo radar to make sure it's not used as a money-making cash cow, but the Opposition NDP says the move may be part of a cynical government shell game to keep the gravy train rolling.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver announced Tuesday a photo radar freeze that could last two years. The government wants to collect more data from police and municipalities on where and how the cameras are used so as to ensure they're primarily for safety.
"The whole idea now is to get better data so we can put guidelines in place and enforce them, and have Albertans understand what we hope will be a fair way of keeping them safe on the roads," McIver said at the legislature.
"We are committed to working with municipalities and police services to use photo radar as a tool to reduce collisions and injuries, and ultimately to save lives."
As of Sunday, municipalities and police agencies will not be allowed to install new or upgraded photo radar devices or use existing equipment at new locations.
It's one of several recent changes to photo radar that began earlier this year under the former NDP government, just before it lost the spring election to the United Conservatives.
In February, the NDP transportation minister, Brian Mason, released a third-party report that revealed photo radar was used by 27 municipalities and generated $220 million a year in revenue, but reduced collisions by only 1.4 per cent.
Based on the report, Mason announced changes to severely limit or ban photo radar at perceived revenue-generating spots, known colloquially as "fishing holes."
Photo radar is no longer allowed at spots where speed limits change quickly, called transition zones, and on high-speed, multi-lane highways unless there is documented proof of safety concerns.
McIver said the government will continue with those bans.
Municipalities and police agencies were also directed by the NDP to have a clear plan in place by March 2020 to use photo radar, backed up by collision data, to prove it is only being used at high-risk locations.
NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley said McIver's data review puts that March plan on the backburner and opens the door to municipalities continuing to run photo radar at questionable locations.
"We (when in government) were very clear with municipalities that they would need to begin to provide data on safety by March of 2020 and they would have been prepared to do that," said Ganley.
"I don't think this needs to be delayed."
An added twist to this review is that a budget implementation bill set to be passed in the coming days will increase the provincial take from photo radar tickets to 40 per cent from 27 per cent, she said.
"I question, in light of the moves (the government) made with respect to changing the fine ticket revenues, whether this is essentially an indirect way to get more money to municipalities after they removed it," she said.
When asked if it's problematic for the province to review photo radar while it is simultaneously set to profit more from it, McIver said revenue will take a back seat.
"We're going to make sure the focus for photo radar is on safety."
The report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2019.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press