Milking the Cash Cow

by

I got a speeding ticket today. In the mail. For doing twenty-five miles per hour.

Yes. I am serious.

This is the fifth speeding ticket I’ve received in the thirty-five years I’ve been driving. That averages one ticket every seven years. Not a bad record, right?

Except that four of the five tickets were issued since we moved to Canada less than two years ago.

Think about that. In twenty-five years of driving, I got one speeding ticket. And in fact, when I got that ticket, I was clocked doing seventy, but my speedometer said I was doing fifty-eight in a fifty-five zone (which is speeding, granted, but not by much). Later we had the speedometer checked, and sure enough, it was off by exactly that amount due to oversized, after-market tires.

Then I moved to Canada. And I’ve gotten four tickets since then.

No doubt the RCMP thinks I’ve suddenly begun driving at crazy-mad speeds, but the truth is: I never speed. In fact, I’m a bit obsessive about the speed limit. Unless the road is icy, I set the cruise control to make sure I don’t speed. And if it is icy, I drive much slower (this might, coincidentally, have something to do with the fact that I have never, not once, not for one second, lost control of my vehicle here).

Actually, my tendency to drive the speed limit has gotten me into trouble because probably three-quarters* of the drivers around me speed, and they get seriously annoyed when I slow them down. I get honked at, brights flashed at, flipped off, and (most notably) twice run off the road precisely for driving the speed limit.

The tickets I’ve gotten in Canada are as follows:

Ticket #1: issued by The Town of Stony Plain via photo radar. Mars was driving this time when my van was zapped by photo radar, but since I’m the first listed driver on the title, the ticket was in my name. They assured me that since I was charged “as a registered owner” and not as a driver, it would not result in points against my license. No doubt that statement was supposed to make feel better about having to give the city $140 and get treated by the court clerk as a sleazeball for doing so.

Ticket #2: also issued by Stony Plain via photo radar. This one really was mine, and it’s a legitimate ticket. It was very soon after we arrived, and I wasn’t yet familiar with the roads and speed limits (much less the places the photo radar van is regularly parked). I was a little disoriented and thought I was north of Yellowhead, where the speed limit is eighty kph, but I was still in the town limits where the limit is fifty. I remember driving past a van parked on a bike path and wondering what the heck it was doing there. I even felt sorry for the guy since he had obviously broken down (yeah, joke’s on me). $120.

Mars said it was just my luck that the one time I sped within the Town of Stony Plain, the photo radar happened to be set up right there.

Ticket #3: issued by the City of Calgary via photo radar. I had literally just merged onto an expressway I had never been on before. This was my first visit to Calgary, but by Day 3, I’d  figured out that there is virtually no merging lane at the end of entrance ramps and Calgarians almost never move over for you. The only way to merge onto an expressway is to be going with the flow of traffic when you hit the end of the ramp.

Virtually all the limited access freeways I’ve been on have an eighty kph limit. The Yellowhead (a major cross-country freeway) has a seventy kph limit going through Edmonton, and it’s not limited access. So I planned my speed accordingly, and as soon as I was safely merged into traffic (traveling roughly the same speed I was), I began looking for a speed limit sign.

I saw the flash of the photo radar seconds before I got to the speed limit sign: fifty kph. Yes, fifty kph.

For my friends in the U.S., that’s thirty-one miles an hour. On a limited access highway. Absolutely nutty.

And the photo radar was set up between the entrance ramp from downtown and the first speed limit sign.

Yes, it felt like a trap. But what d’ya do? I paid the fine. $119.45.

Ticket #4: issued by the City of Spruce Grove via photo radar and received via Canada Post today. I have been charged with going forty-one kph in a thirty kph zone. For my friends in the US, apparently I was going twenty-five mph in a eighteen-mph zone.

I can’t figure out for sure where this is. The citation only gives an approximate location, and I know my route, and the speed limit there is sixty. The only thing I can figure is that either it was a pedestrian crosswalk that was flashing or a school zone.

Given the photo radar, it was probably the latter, and there are a couple of schools in the area. School zones are problematic for me here: they are marked with only one sign, and I’ve never figured out whether the limit applies only to the crosswalk or to some unmarked zone before and after the crosswalk.

Go ahead: check the website. It describes when the school zone ends, but not when it begins. And in my experience, most school zones do not have a sign at all noting the end.

To make it even more confusing, the school designation comes in two types. A school zone implies a speed limit, while a school area (exactly the same sign but without the listed speed limit) is only a caution, to let drivers know a school is nearby. You can be ticketed for driving forty in a school zone but not in a school area.

Most Alberta drivers don’t even know there’s a difference. I only know because it was a big issue for the school council I sat on.

So I probably was going forty-one, and if it was a school zone, that is speeding. I’ll pay the fine. $80.

My Puzzle

The thing I can’t figure out is … given that I never speed and probably three-fourths* of the drivers around me speed constantly, how is this possible?

Is everyone getting several tickets a year, and just paying them without telling anyone? It seems unlikely that people are forking over hundreds of dollars to the Town of Stony Plain without complaining about it.

Maybe there’s an ancient Greek God with his nose out of joint against me for some reason (probably for letting my daughter read Athena the Brain instead of appropriately snooty Greek Mythology).

So … what do you notice in common about the four tickets I’ve gotten in less than two years?

Yep. Photo radar. And all but one came from either Stony Plain or Spruce Grove.

Photo Radar

In the old days, given my proclivity to obey the law, odds are a police officer wouldn’t happen to be right there with his radar gun the one or two times I was driving over the posted limit.

But even if he was, and he pulled me over (rather than the SUV in the next lane that was doing 130 in 110, or sixty in a thirty), he might have heard my explanation and realized that my speeding was unusual and due to ignorance rather than blatant disobedience.

Odds are, he would have reminded me to be careful (or more aware of school zones), and sent me on my way sans citation.

More to the point: in the old days, when it would have been a clearly marked police car by the side of the road instead of an unremarkable SUV among the ubiquitous others? All of us would have slowed down.

Think about it: with a marked car parked by the side of the road, traffic in general slows down.

With an unmarked incognito SUV parked by the side of the road, nobody slows down, but everybody gets ticketed. And the town rakes in the money.

Makes me wonder what the goal is: to make our roads safer, or to line the city’s coffers?

Stony Plain and Spruce Grove

Before we moved here, we were warned about Stony and Spruce, warned about their infatuation with photo radar. Frankly, I wasn’t too worried about it because (go ahead, laugh at me), I virtually never speed.

It never occurred to me that on those very rare instances when I did (never on purpose), I’d be issued a citation every time.

Every. Flipping. Time.

But then, I underestimated Stony Plain.

According to this article, the town issued thirteen hundred citations via photo radar between Sept. 16 and Dec. 31, 2011.

That means, by extrapolation over an entire year, the city issued nine tickets (roughly) for every ten residents. 

Nine tickets for every resident, not every driver. 

Compare those statistics to Edmonton, where photo radar nailed 113,000 people in 2011. That’s 1.3 tickets per resident.

One-point-three. A far cry from nine!

In sum, if you drive in Stony Plain, your odds of getting a speeding ticket are six hundred percent higher than if you drive in Edmonton.

I couldn’t find stats for Spruce Grove, but I suspect it’s comparable.

My Rant

I found a couple of quotes in the Stony Plain Reporter article particularly … well, amusing, for lack of a polite word.

The first was a comment by councilmember Pat Hansard in response to a vehicle that was clocked doing 147 in a fifty-kph zone but whose license plate was obscured, hence no citation was issued.

“I’m appalled at the high rate of speed where there was no ticket issued,” Hansard said. “If there was a question in the mind of people for the need of photo radar, this would certainly provide proof of its necessity.”

Ummm … Councilmember? Actually, no, that doesn’t provide proof of the necessarity for photo radar because … (wait for it) … the photo radar didn’t work!

If it had been a police officer that clocked the vehicle going almost a hundred clicks over the speed limit, he’d have chased the brute down and probably done more than just issue a speeding ticket. Unlike the photo radar which did nothing.

Nor is it surprising that a vehicle had an “obstructed” plate. I’ve seen a number of vehicles with a blurry sheet of plastic covering the plate number. You can still read the number, but it doesn’t show up on photos. And Mars tells me (after a little Googling) there’s a glossy spray you can use to obscure your number in photos.

Heck, for that matter, all you have to do is not wash your car much of the year. The roads tend to be filthy, and my plate is often obscured by mud or snow. The first ticket I got? I had literally just gone through the car wash, which was the only reason they could read my plate number.

So, no, Councilmember Hansard, the report does not, in fact, provide proof that we need photo radar.

The other “amusing” quote came from Councilmember Robert Twerdoclib.

“Photo radar has a perception of it being a kind of ‘cash cow,'” he said.

Umm … yeah! Maybe because you guys are issuing six hundred percent more tickets per capita than Edmonton? Maybe that’s why we have a perception of photo radar being a small town cash cow? You think?

Councilmember Twerodclib went on to say, “Hopefully those days are numbered.”

….

….

I have nothing to add. Absolutely nothing.

My Conclusion

Here’s the thing, Stony Plain and Spruce Grove: I don’t live in your town, and I drive to the city almost every day.

If my odds are getting a ticket in your town are six hundred times higher, then

… newsflash!! …

I won’t be shopping in your town. In fact, I’ll avoid it.

With the possible exception of Crooked Pot, there’s nothing I can purchase in Stony Plain that I can’t get in Edmonton. Without the ridiculous six-hundred-percent increase in the odds of getting nailed by photo radar.

And I’ll have more to spend because I won’t be shoveling hundreds of dollars into your coffers.

*Three-quarters is a rough estimate, based on an unscientific gut-feeling, but it’s probably not far off. After all, the Stony Plain photo radar showed that almost one-third of the cars were speeding as they drove past the photo radar van.

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9 Responses to “Milking the Cash Cow”

  1. Grandma Says:

    Boy, you just have all the luck. How do you happen to manage that? Remind me not to ever drive in those areas. Love you!

  2. Laura Says:

    You speed demon. Think of the children! :D I got nabbed by photo radar twice in town here, and now am diligent about looking for the truck they use. I mean, i try not to speed, but mostly, i try not to get caught. I had one ticket on the highway, coming down out of a 100 zone into an 80 zone, it was raining and i was unfamiliar with the road, but i was indeed speeding so, yeah. There is no doubt in my mind they have quotas to fill, and the cash cow of photo radar helps the budget tremendously.
    Really, nothing you write about Stony Plain makes me want to live, shop or pass through there. but we still want to attend the Blueberry Bluegrass festival this summer. :)

    • Katrina Stonoff Says:

      ROFL. Yep, that’s me, a hazard to children everywhere.

      Your ticket sounds a lot like mine — yes, I was speeding, but only because I didn’t know the speed limit.

      Sadly, few of my experiences are leaving me with much fondness for anywhere in Parkland — though there some *wonderful* people here!! My guitar teacher is BRILLIANT. And I love the Junior Authors club at the library. But I’ve had so many bad experiences, I’ll be glad to shake the dust from me feet.

      Having said that … the Blueberry festival is supposed to be amazing!! I had planned to go this year, but we’ll be enroute to Virginia for a reunion of my husband’s submarine crew that weekend. :-( Seems heartbreaking for you to be here and me not!!

  3. Nicola Says:

    Yeah, my dh (I don’t drive) used to get a lot of tickets in the mail when we lived in AB and he’s not a speeder. I’ve even heard of people getting them for seatbelt violations! Fortunately, when we moved to ON, we found out photo-radar is illegal here and he’s only got a parking ticket here so far!

    • Katrina Stonoff Says:

      Personally, I think it’s the NON-speeders who get the most tickets because we’re not in the habit of looking for SUVs parked suspiciously in the medians and overpasses. I literally never notice the radar van unless someone who often speeds (not mentioning any names, but he often rides shotgun with me) points it out.

  4. Kat Bryan Says:

    Time for a letter to the editor of the local paper, don’t you think? Maybe just abreviate your post.

    Photo radar has been a hot topic in the Des Moines metro area. Some people think it should be illegal and others think it’s great. The locations of the cameras are posted on the web daily so people are warned. They also have red-light cameras that catch people running red lights and they say that has helped reduce accidents……..I don’t know. I used to feel if you broke the law, you deserved the ticket but after reading your post, I’m not so sure.

    • Katrina Stonoff Says:

      I always thought that about photo radar too: “hey, you were breaking the law, quit whining about it!” And I’m a BIG fan of red-light cameras because I believe they actually do reduce the accident rate by forcing people to form new habits. Certainly it seemed to work in Phoenix when I lived there.

      But after living here? I think the photo radar speed traps are BUNK. They’re ticketing the wrong people. Chronic speeders who know they’re breaking the law and don’t care avoid tickets by 1) watching for the photo radar van, and 2) obscuring their license plates. Meanwhile, people like me who don’t even *see* the van (heck, I don’t even notice police cars behind me until they get right on my tail) get nailed. :-(

  5. Jim Says:

    I think a letter to the editor is a right and include the point about the shopping. If I remember correctly you do enjoy a good shopping trip. See me smiling!

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