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Perth County is interested in automated school bus-arm cameras – the latest weapon in the fight against blow-by drivers who ignore stopped school buses – but likely won’t be able to go it alone.
Given the expense of the technology – and the system needed to make enforcement work – this approach to deterring drivers would require additional provincial funding, county councillors heard at Thursday’s meeting.
Without that additional cash, county corporate services director Annette Diamond said, this approach, if adopted, would operate at a deficit.
“The installation of school bus-arm cameras is not revenue generating,” she noted, “and it may not reach cost recovery. … It is really a safety initiate and that means we all have a role to play.”
Part of new provincial legislation enacted in July of last year that focuses on automatic speed enforcement and red-light cameras, the use of these cameras is meant to deter drivers from passing stopped school buses by hitting them in their pocketbooks. The legislation, Diamond added, is also intended to reduce the burden on the provincial court system.
The problem is the cost, Diamond said. Even with the fines levied against these drivers, this opt-in system is both expensive and complicated.
If Perth County opted in for the province’s entire “administrative monetary penalty system,” including red-light cameras and other automated enforcement, the cost would be staggering.
To set up, this system would need a processing centre for the photos and video, a provincial offences officer to lay the charges, a screening officer to deal with contested fines, a hearing office to manage the appeal process, a program co-ordinator, and a slew of agreements with government ministries, local municipalities and software vendors to make sure everything is running properly and in accordance with provincial rules.
Based on the City of Waterloo’s experience implementing a similar system, Diamond estimated the number of drivers charged with offences, including failing to stop at red lights and speeding, would triple from the roughly 4,400 ticketed last year. While that could mean as much as $1.5 million in fine revenue, she estimated the system would cost roughly $3 million annually.
If the county opted to only implement school bus-arm cameras, which is permitted as long as the requirements of that specific legislation is met, Perth County would need to work with local municipalities, local school bus operators, local school boards, local police services, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
This option would also be more expensive than any revenue generated through fines. The owner of Newry Coach Lines, the local school bus operator, estimated that drivers see an average of two vehicles ignore stopped school buses each day. With a minimum fine of $490 and 194 school days per year, that would work out to about $190,120 in fines while the system would cost about $1.5 million.
“This is a significant cost and the question is … is that cost worth the safety considerations that could be advanced in this particular case?” Coun. Todd Kasenberg said.
“It would appear to me that’s not money that’s particularly available to us unless you want to change the tax structure in Perth County. And we hear stories of the province sitting on very significant surpluses over the next few years. I guess I would continue to call on the province to work with municipalities in a significant way to talk about this,” he added.
Given the expense, council is first asking the region’s community safety and well-being council – a committee comprising municipal representatives, area police and paramedics, and social services workers – to take a close look at the options.
Perth County Warden Rhonda Ehgoetz will also be part of a group at August’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual general meeting that is pushing the province to fund the school bus cameras.
More than 837,000 students travel in a school vehicle every school day in Ontario. Injuries and fatalities, which are rare, happen more often outside the school bus as students are boarding and leaving the bus or crossing the street.
School bus safety received provincial attention when former Chatham-Kent MPP Pat Hoy introduced a bill allowing police to charge the driver and the owner of the vehicle following the 1997 death of 17-year-old high school student, who was struck by an oncoming car while attempting to board a school bus on Highway 3.
Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington, introduced a private member’s bill to get stop-arm cameras on school buses and allow video evidence to be used in court, but it was defeated in 2017.