The warning period is over for speeding drivers captured on camera in school and community safety zones across Toronto.
The city's automated speed enforcement program, which includes 50 units that track speed and take photos of licence plates, began late last year with signage notifying drivers that the cameras were there. For the first three months, the owners of vehicles caught speeding received warning letters, but no penalties.
The move into the next phase — issuing speeding tickets — was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic but went into effect on Monday.
"We would have preferred not to have to go down this path," Mike Barnet, manager of automated enforcement for the City of Toronto said in an interview with CBC News.
"I would have been very happy if just the presence of the signage made a big difference."
The automated speed enforcement program is part of Vision Zero — a movement to eliminate deaths and injuries from traffic collisions that has been adopted by municipalities around the world. Toronto, as well many other municipalities in the GTA, have developed Vision Zero strategies that include the use of automated speed enforcement.
The goal, transportation specialists across the GTA say, is to change driver behaviour through both fines and public education.
It's not, as some drivers might complain, "a cash grab," said Ramesh Jagannathan, director of transportation and field services, for Durham Region, which is in the midst of starting its own camera speed enforcement program.
"If I get ... 100 per cent speed compliance and zero revenue, to me that's a success. We are not looking for revenue here," Jagannathan told CBC News.
Barnet agreed, saying he hopes the cameras will eventually become unnecessary.
"We've seen really high speeds and that's why we're moving forward with this next step," he said.
"We want people to slow down. And, you know, we hope that this program is so successful that we won't be issuing tickets in the years to come."
Jagannathan said traffic engineers across the GTA are hoping for a "halo effect," where drivers who have been slowing down because they think there's a camera watching also get into the habit of reducing their speed on other roads where cameras aren't present.
All 50 automated speed enforcement cameras in Toronto are placed in school zones in all wards, a city spokesperson said in an email. They're also mobile, so will be moved every three to six months "to address a greater number of areas with safety concerns and provide a wider-ranging deterrent effect," the email said.
Ontario's Highway Traffic Act only allows the cameras to be placed on roads where the speed limit is 70 km/h or below, and requires signage warning drivers of their presence for 90 days before tickets can be issued.
Toronto is the first city in the GTA to activate the automated speed enforcement cameras, but other municipalities aren't far behind.
Studies in other jurisdictions, including other provinces in Canada and in the U.S., have shown automated speed enforcement cameras are effective at reducing speeding and collisions, transportation officials from Toronto, Durham Region, York Region and Peel Region told CBC News.
According to a study conducted in Seattle and published earlier this year in the journal Injury Prevention, speed violations decreased by nearly half once tickets were issued, compared to the warning period.
Throughout the GTA, the photos of licence plates will be sent to a central processing centre, where provincial offences officers review them and send tickets, including a copy of the image, to the registered owner of the vehicle.
Unlike a police officer, the automated cameras can't issue tickets to someone driving another person's vehicle. The penalty is a fine only, with no demerit points.
Here's how — and where — automated speed enforcement cameras are rolling out across other parts of the GTA.
Durham Region is placing four mobile cameras in school zones on regional roads — one each in Pickering, Oshawa, Whitby and Ajax. The cameras will rotate between about 25 designated zones throughout the region, Jagannathan said.
Signage has been installed warning drivers where the cameras are present, and the region is also advertising on buses and on social media to increase public awareness.
Durham Region is aiming to start issuing speeding tickets to vehicle owners caught by the cameras at the beginning of the school year.
Pickering is planning to start its own photo radar pilot project on its streets later in the fall, a spokesperson for the city told CBC News in an email.
York Region has one mobile camera that it will rotate through 12 community safety zones, which cover 19 schools.
The two-year pilot project is "tentatively scheduled" to begin in September, said Nelson Costa, York Region's manager of corridor control and safety in an email to CBC News.
The automated speed enforcement zones are locations deemed to be highest risk and were chosen in consultation with York Regional police, Costa said. Factors considered in the decision included traffic volume, school population and speed-related collision data.
Signs have been posted in all the zones and speeding tickets will be issued as soon as the cameras go live. There is at least one zone in every York Region town and city. At this time, the individual municipalities are not installing their own speed enforcement cameras on town or city-run streets, Costa said.
York Region's automated speed enforcement locations are on the following roads (some roads cross into multiple municipalities):
- Rutherford Road
- Weston Road
- King Road
- Highway 7
- Bayview Avenue
- Bloomington Road
- Wellington Street
- Bloomington Road
- Bloomington Road
- Mulock Drive
- Mount Albert Road
- Leslie Street
- Old Homestead Road
The first automated speed enforcement in Peel Region will be in Caledon, in a school zone on Old Church Road. It's expected to be up and running in September. The mobile camera will later rotate between five other school zones in the town.
The city of Brampton has put up warning signs in five locations where automated speed enforcement cameras will be used. The zones are on Lawson Boulevard, Avondale Boulevard, Richvale Drive North, Fernforest Drive and Vodden Street East. It's not yet clear when tickets will start to be issued.
Potential addition locations will be considered at Brampton City Council's next meeting on Wednesday, along with an implementation plan, a spokesperson told CBC News in an email.
The city of Mississauga is also in the midst of a plan to install speed enforcement cameras in community safety zones. It will begin in 2021. Before that happens, however, Mississauga is completing its "neighbourhood area speed limit project," a spokesperson said in an email. That project will lower speed limits in the city's "school area community safety zones" to 30 km/h.