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City seeks bidders for new red light, speed camera program

Baltimore transportation officials on Thursday announced plans to revive the city's defunct red light and speed camera system.

Officials said they will issue a request for bids Friday for 10 red light cameras, 10 fixed speed cameras and 10 portable systems. City Transportation Director William Johnson said the new program will include multiple safeguards to ensure the integrity of the tickets issued.

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This will be the city's third program after two failed attempts in which motorists received tickets in error. The system, which was run for years by Xerox State & Local Solutions and briefly by Brekford Corp., was shut down in April 2013.

"We've spent a lot of time in this period when this program wasn't operating, looking at what went right, what went wrong, how do we correct problems we've had in the past, and how do we add more confidence back into the program," Johnson told reporters Thursday.

He said the company the city selects will be paid a flat rate for each camera, instead of the previous "bounty system," in which the vendor was paid for each citation.

Johnson said the city will require the winning bidder to provide the equipment and to ensure at least 95 percent accuracy in the tickets issued.

An audit of the system operated by Xerox showed that some cameras had error rates of more than 10 percent. Tests of Brekford's system also disclosed widespread problems. A Baltimore Sun investigation found that cameras had issued tickets for slow-moving or stopped cars, among other problems.

Officials said they did not know when a new system would be up and running. The city is asking vendors to submit bids that will be valid through July 2017 to give officials enough time to review proposals thoroughly.

In addition to the vendor review of tickets, Johnson said, transportation officials will perform spot checks to ensure accuracy, and the police department will be responsible for reviewing and signing off on citations.

Johnson said his department will dedicate an employee to handle disputed tickets.

"If it was issued and you feel it was issued in error, this individual will be responsible for working with you, for researching it, for coordinating with the police, with our DOT team, and making a recommendation on whether or not that's a valid citation," he said.

A review by a City Council committee of the previous system — which grew to 83 speed cameras and 81 red light cameras — found there was not enough city personnel to review tickets for accuracy.

If accuracy drops below 95 percent, Johnson said, the vendor will be paid less.

"So the vendor is going to have an incentive to make sure that the citations that are being issued by their system are valid and accurate," he said.

In 2014, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that required vendors to report an error rate that exceeds 5 percent.

A spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic said she's pleased the city has not rushed into a new program given the problems with past vendors.

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Spokeswoman Ragina Cooper Averella applauded the department for incorporating proposals by AAA and other members of the Mayor's Task Force on Automated Enforcement, including a recommendation to hold vendors accountable for tickets issued in error.

"Unfortunately, the countless issues regarding Baltimore's program and other small municipalities in Maryland, as well as across the country, have created distrust by many motorists about the veracity of automated speed enforcement programs," she wrote in an email. "The reforms, as indicated in the City's [request for proposals] process, are a significant step in restoring motorists' trust in a program that should enhance traffic safety when utilized properly."

Cameras from the previous system are up for sale. Johnson said the new vendor will be required to provide its own equipment so that the city does not get stuck buying new hardware and software.

Johnson said the program was revived in response to residents' concerns about safety.

"The primary goal of the program is to support enforcement efforts in trying to change the behavior of our drivers in our city, to get people to slow down and to respect the traffic laws and to be safe on our streets," he said.

He said accidents declined after cameras were introduced in 2010. He said there has been a "slight uptick" since the program was shut down.

Johnson did not provide specific locations, costs or potential revenue estimates of the new system. The city received a total of more than $140 million through both speed camera and red light ticket programs.

The city was projected to collect $11.4 million from speed cameras before the program was shut down in 2013. The city lost another $7.5 million in 2014 and $6.9 million in 2015, according to past revenue projections.

The new program will start with about 25 devices but then will ramp up, Johnson said. It will include six automated truck enforcement cameras to measure the height of commercial trucks, which are prohibited on some streets.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young supports reviving the program, his spokesman said.

"He was clear all along: The red light and speed camera program is an important tool to promote safety," spokesman Lester Davis said. "The problem was the public lost faith in the integrity in the system because there was no accuracy.

"That's what he wanted — a timeout. We've got to get this right."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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