PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The city of Providence issued more than 12,000 speeding tickets - averaging 369 per day - during the first 33 days that its new school-zone speed camera program was in use, according to a Target 12 review of traffic violation data.
A total of 12,193 tickets were generated from five speed cameras between Jan. 16 and Feb 22, with nearly all of the tickets coming from three locations: Mount Pleasant Avenue, Charles Street and Thurbers Avenue. (The cameras are not in use on Sundays.)
At $95 per ticket, that means violators were charged $1.15 million in just over one month. The city had already received $370,000 as of Feb. 22, records show. Six additional cameras will be deployed in various neighborhoods next week.
"Ultimately this is about keeping families safe, especially in areas with many children around," Mayor Jorge Elorza, a Democrat, said when the program launched. "Tragedies can be prevented with innovative solutions and that's exactly what these cameras do."
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Rhode Island lawmakers first approved speed cameras in 2016 when they passed the Automated School-Zone-Speed-Enforcement System Act permitting municipalities to install them within a quarter-mile of any type of school. The Providence City Council voted last May to allow up to 15 speed cameras to be installed around the city.
Tickets can be issued for any vehicle caught traveling at least 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, according to the city's contract with Conduent State and Local Solutions Inc., the private vendor that oversees both speed cameras and red light cameras in the city.
Conduent earns $2,978 per month for each camera and $7.50 per violation processed, meaning it was set up to make more than $100,000 during the first month of the program. The Maryland company, a subsidiary of a New Jersey-based corporation that was formerly a division of Xerox, also receives a $3.50 convenience fee every time a violator uses their credit card to pay a ticket.
The cameras are also portable, and the city's contract with Conduent allows for two to be moved to new locations each week. As of Feb. 22, the camera in front of Mount Pleasant High School has generated 4,795 tickets; one on Charles Street generated 4,236 tickets; and another on Thurbers Avenue generated 3,126 tickets.
Two other cameras on Daniel Avenue and Peace Street generated only 36 tickets combined, but the one on Peace Street was stolen in January. (It has since been replaced.)
Every potential violation is reviewed by a Providence police officer and state law requires the tickets to be sent within two weeks of the violation, but the Elorza administration has asked the General Assembly to extend the notification period to 28 days. (The city successfully lobbied lawmakers for a similar extension of red light camera violations last year.)
The camera program has received mixed reviews from the public, with critics suggesting the city is simply using them to generate new revenue and supporters saying they are already seeing vehicles slow down in school zones.
Anthony Brown, a North Providence resident, said while he understands the safety concerns, "I don't believe people are at school until 8:00 at night." He also claims his wife got a speeding ticket on Charles Street in the middle of the day, but the picture that accompanied the violation notice appeared as though it was dark outside.
"I don't know where in Providence or the state of Rhode Island where it's dark at 11:42 a.m.," he said. Brown said he plans to challenge the ticket in municipal court.
Billy Kepner, a spokesperson for the city, said "an overlay is placed on the vehicle which could cause the photo to look darker." He said zero tickets have been dismissed.
The cameras came to Providence just over two years after a teacher at Mount Pleasant High School was killed while crossing the street near the school. The teenage driver, Tarchae Powell, fled the scene but later turned herself into police. She was charged with operating a vehicle without insurance. The teacher's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Powell in 2016.
Nesha Kingston, a Providence resident, said the cameras seem to be working. She said she sees the Charles Street unit flashing constantly.
"It has slowed the cars down a lot," she email@example.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowanSusan Campbell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook