There’s been a spate of fossils coming out of the woodwork lately, extolling the virtues of Photo Radar. Witness former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, incapable of admitting a mistake, tweeting on February 23rd (twenty years after he lost an election in part due to his misplaced proclivity for Photo Radar) that Photo Radar “saves lives”. One of the Photo Radar fossil apologists in BC in 1995/1996, was the British Columbia Automobile Association head, John Ratel; and he’s written a follow up letter to the Times Colonist’s recent oped which (no surprise) read like a fluff piece for the Photo Radar lobby.

Back in the day, John seemed a kind, gentlemanly, yet pompous sort of fellow. We don’t think John liked us at the time, probably in part because we suggested it appeared to us he was using BCAA as both his personal bully pulpit, and as a shameless promoter of Photo Radar.

One of the things they (BCAA) did to justify John’s personal Orwellian fetish for full time driver surveillance, was distribute and publish the results of a member opinion “survey” complete with, what’s known in the marketing biz as, built-in survey bias. John promoted Photo Radar with gusto and justified his personal crusade by saying BCAA supported, it because the majority of their members did… based on that survey.

We told John at the time that we didn’t appreciate the “old boys” club in Victoria which included what he kindly refers to, in his letter to the TC, as the “oversight committee”; you know, like the types of committees which include bureaucrats, political insiders and appointees who meet, have their lunches bought and who expect politicians to do what they they are “advised” to do.

Have you been invited to be on an “oversight committee”? Nope, we haven’t either. Go figure.

All the reasons the apologists now claim Photo Radar did not work, are simply excuses for their inability to admit failure; the type of failure we see over and over with Photo Radar; the type of failure that we warned of from day one.

Mr. Ratel’s letter to the Times Colonist yesterday:

I served on an oversight committee when photo radar was proposed as a way to reduce serious accidents and fatalities caused by excessive speed on highways.

Its eventual demise brought about by Gordon Campbell as an election ploy was due to a number of factors, not least of which was that municipalities wanted to share in the revenue. They insisted the cameras be deployed on local streets, thus giving substance to the “cash grab” claim, but the real culprit was the provincial government for not funding the complete system.

Photo radar was intended to be deployed only on highways with a history of serious speed-related crashes. Images were to be downloaded every 24 hours and the licence plate of the offender digitally matched against the vehicle’s registered owner. A copy of the photograph and speeding ticket would be in the mail within 36 hours.

At least, that was the standard proposed. The reality was that the digital-matching component of the system was considered too expensive and not acquired. Therefore, the identification of errant vehicles had to be processed by hand, taking many weeks; in some cases even months.

Vehicle owners, particularly where a family car was involved, couldn’t be certain who was driving or recall where and when the infraction occurred, and complaints flooded into the superintendent’s office.

It’s no wonder that photo radar became so disliked and became an easy gambit and casualty of a general election, with a significant loss to highway safety.

John H. Râtel
Former director of government affairs
B.C. Automobile Association

You can read the original Times Colonist Letter here

Photo radar was first promoted to cost around $10-15 million to implement, but final costs were about $110 million. It generated only a fraction more – about $130 million – in fine revenue. The fixed operational costs: hardware, equipment, computer systems, software development and integration, buildings, consultants, and so on, were typical of failed government programs: massively over budget.

They wasted around $110 Million dollars on that failure; and that doesn’t exclude the money the system ripped off from otherwise safe vehicle owners in the form of photos and fines in the mail.

Photo radar didn’t fail due to a “lack of funding” as JR says. It failed because automation didn’t deliver anywhere near the promoted efficiency and it didn’t address the fundamental underlying issues in speed-related crashes: 2/3’rds are drug and/or alcohol related and 2/3’rds are “too fast for conditions” (NOT speeding)… leaving only 1/9th of speed-related fatalities conceivably addressable by automated enforcement.

Add to this the fact the actual driver isn’t necessarily the one receiving and responsible for paying the ticket, and it’s easy to see why a politician could see an opportunity.

Yes Gordon Campbell saw a political opportunity. We fed it to him and Jack Weisgerber (Reform). The NDP were stupid and John was their cheerleader at the time.

If another political party tries it (Photo Radar) again, they do so at their peril.