Updated Mach 28, 2018 at 9:10 p.m.
Providence drivers have paid over $735,000 for traffic violations since the City installed five portable camera units around school zones Jan. 16, according to Billy Kepner, press secretary for the Providence City Council. The amount paid to the City from the over 16,600 violations already exceeds the projected net revenue of $500,000 for the camera units for fiscal year 2018, Victor Morente, press secretary for the Mayor’s Office, said.
Each camera is installed within a quarter mile of a school, and vehicles traveling more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit automatically receive violations, according to a City press release. Fifteen cameras will eventually be installed. Violations are reviewed by both the Providence Police Department and Conduent, a private company which operates and manages the cameras.
An additional six cameras were activated March 5, Morente said. After two weeks of facing only warnings for speeding in those locations, speeding drivers are now receiving violations, he added.
All camera violations result in $95 fines to the owner of the vehicle, Morente said. Signs are posted in each location to warn drivers that the cameras are in place, he added.
State Rep. Bob Craven, D-North Kingstown, originally introduced the legislation requiring speed cameras within a quarter mile of schools. While the House voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill in 2016, Craven now has second thoughts about the heavy fines for initial violations, Craven wrote in an email to The Herald.
On March 14, Craven introduced a bill to amend the original law to only issue warnings for a first offense and a $50 fine for the second offense. After the third violation, drivers would begin to receive the $95 fine.
The thousands of tickets issued and hundreds of thousands of dollars the cameras have raised so far have proved exorbitant, Craven wrote.
Craven initially hoped that the bill would reduce traffic while lowering city costs by not requiring police officers on the scene, he wrote.
“Safety comes first, but safety can be achieved by using the cameras and better signage to create a ‘chilling effect’ on speeder’s behavior,” Craven added.
State Rep. Anthony Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, introduced a bill to ban speed cameras from the state. Giarrusso said that the camera units are a “government cash grab” by the City, according to the Associated Press.
“I stand by my statement that this is more about revenue than school safety,” Giarrusso wrote in an email to The Herald.
“Look no further than the days and hours of operation, the dollar amount of the fine and that there is no penalty to the driver but only the registered owner of the vehicle,” Giarrusso wrote. The cameras operate between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, according to a R.I. General Assembly press release.
A connection between Mayor Jorge Elorza and a Conduent lobbyist raised further questions about the traffic cameras.
Elorza’s former chief of staff Tony Simon now serves as a “$5,000 a month lobbyist for Conduent at the Rhode Island State House,” GoLocalProv.com reported. Conduent earns $2,978 per month for each camera and $7.50 for every violation it processes, WPRI reported. However, the City has continued to stand by the value of the speed cameras in maintaining public safety.
“While the City remains committed to the cameras as a way to keep our kids safe, the City is open to reasonable changes to the state law,” Morente wrote in an email to The Herald.
Mayor Jorge Elorza and Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Paré initially lauded the program for its ability to protect school zones from reckless drivers.
“Ultimately this is about keeping families safe, especially in areas with many children around,” Elorza said in a press release announcing the cameras. “Tragedies can be prevented with innovative solutions and that’s exactly what these cameras do.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that State Rep. Anthony Giarrusso noted the connection between a Conduent lobbyist and the Elorza administration. In fact, Giarusso did not state that there was a connection between a Conduent lobbyist and the Elorza administration. The Herald regrets the error.