PERTH COUNTY – Perth County is taking action when it comes to school bus safety. Annette Diamond, director of legal and corporate services for the county, presented a report to county council on June 15 surrounding the issue of school bus stop arm cameras in the region. 

County staff have investigated the feasibility of implementing an Administrative Monetary Penalty System (AMPS) for automated enforcement of camera-based vehicle infractions, which would include Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE), Red Light Cameras (RLC) and Automated School Bus Stop Arm Cameras.

Further, staff have researched the issue of proceeding with school bus arm cameras without the implementation of the AMPS program. 

“Specific to school bus arm cameras, municipalities, police services, school boards, and transportation providers need to work together to pool resources and develop a framework to implement an Automated School Bus Camera System with appropriate funding,” explained the report. However, the county has options to just install school bus arm cameras or to also implement an AMPS program. 

AMPS is an alternative to the provincial court system, which moves enforcement of some offences to the municipality. 

“At this time, there are no municipalities that have implemented an AMPS for camera-based vehicle infractions. Some municipalities use AMPS for parking and by-law enforcement,” explained Diamond in her report. 

The types of charges covered under the AMPS program for automated enforcement of camera-based vehicle infractions include speeding, red light violations, and more. In 2022, there were 4,418 of these types of charges in Perth County and approximately $492,000 in gross revenue collected from these charges.

The statistics are as follows; Speeding – 4,150 infractions grossed $430,357.83; Disobeying Signs – 224 infractions grossed $48,698.25; Failure to stop at a red light – 29 infractions grossed $9,030; and Fail to Stop for School Bus – 15 infractions grossed $3,925. Therefore, a total of 4,418 infractions. 

It is anticipated that the installation of these cameras will increase the number of tickets. 

“Under AMPS, the owner of the vehicle, rather than the driver, is charged a set fine, with no demerit points being deducted. The offence does not go on the owner’s driving record, even if they were driving at the time, and enforcement is limited such that the owner’s driver’s licence is not suspended, but rather payment is compelled at the time of renewal of vehicle ownership,” explained the report. 

For AMPS, the province requires a qualified provincial offences officer to review and process the images and issue the tickets, or this can be done through a processing centre. 

School bus arm cameras have been an ongoing concern for one of Perth County’s lower-tier municipalities, North Perth, after Coun. Allan Rothwell proposed a motion surrounding the implementation of school bus arm cameras and urging the provincial government to aid in this endeavor. The resolution was passed on March 6. 

As for school bus safety, it’s a concern in this area as schools rely heavily on bus transportation to get students to and from school. 

A “blow-by” happens when a motorist illegally passes a stopped school bus with its lights flashing and the stop arm extended. This failure to stop can result in a driver being fined between $400-$2,000 and given six demerit points for a first offense. Subsequent offences can result in the driver receiving heftier fines, more demerit points and possibly jail time. 

John Chapman, owner of Newry Coach Lines, indicated that anecdotally, school bus drivers in the area are seeing approximately two blow-bys a day. 

“Installation of school bus arm cameras does not stop blow-bys, nor does it hold the driver accountable,” explained Diamond. 

“At present, school bus drivers or bystanders must capture enough details such as the date, time, location, vehicle plate number, and description, for the police to investigate and lay the charge. The school bus driver or witness may need to attend court to support the prosecution,” explained the report. 

“Without AMPS, it is still possible to install school bus arm cameras to capture images of blow-bys and process tickets. School bus cameras allow photographs or videos taken by school bus stop-arm cameras to be used as evidence against the vehicle owner for the offence of failing to stop for a school bus. A police officer needs to review the photographs or videos taken to ensure that they comply with legislative requirements to be used as evidence and then lay the charge. An offence notice is sent to the vehicle’s owner, who would be required to pay the fine or may request a trial.” 

To implement this program, a partnership between the school bus transportation company, the school board, police services, ministry of transportation and the ministry of attorney general would be needed. 

“Huron Perth Transportation Services, through Avon Maitland District School Board, services 57 schools within Huron and Perth counties, including Stratford and St. Marys. There are 11,696 students bused to both elementary and secondary schools, with 324 home to school routes and 648 runs daily. There are five bussing companies that provide home to school bussing.” 

Therefore, these types of programs could offer a large benefit for the community. 

“The benefit of an AMPS program is to provide an alternative to the provincial court system by eliminating the offences that would go to early resolution and trial screen, reducing court time and freeing up judicial resources,” explained the report. 

“With the installation of school bus cameras, the image or video captured would be treated similar to the information provided by a witness. The image or footage would be reviewed by the police and treated as evidence to support the charge, which would be laid against the driver… With an AMPS program, the image would be sent to a processing centre for review, as opposed to having a police officer investigate and view the image. The centre would determine if the evidence is sufficient to lay the charge, access the plate registration information, issue the penalty order against the owner, and mail the ticket.” 

And Perth County isn’t the only area dealing with these issues. Mattawa was the first jurisdiction in Ontario to implement stop-arm technology on all 19 of its school buses. 

“An American company, BusPatrol Inc., provides the equipment and photographs, while the police review the pictures and lay the charges. BusPatrol Inc., as an American company, is unable to access licence plate information to process the image.” 

Therefore, Mattawa relies on the OPP to view the photos and video and lay the charges. 

So, without AMPS, resources from the Stratford Police Services and Perth County OPP are needed to process the footage from a school bus arm camera and to press charges. 

This isn’t the only action the county is taking towards ensuring the safety of students as Perth County’s communications officer is reaching out to assist with a community awareness school bus safety campaign to launch in September.

As for AMPS and school bus arm cameras, “staff recommended that the issue of installing school bus arm cameras be referred to the Community Health and Well-Being Council to continue to research and work together to determine each organization’s respective roles. Perth County’s Court Services is responsible for administering the charges once laid. A police officer lays the charges. The bus transportation companies are needed to gather evidence and there are multiple companies providing transportation, which is coordinated through Huron Perth Student Transportation Services. Each organization has a role to play and must have the ability to commit the resources required to implement the program.” 

“It is important to note that the installation of school bus arm cameras is a safety initiative and would not result in generating revenue or reach cost recovery. The volume of charges and associated fine revenue would not result in cost recovery,” explained Diamond. 

Council received the report and referred the issue of the potential installation of school bus arm cameras to the Community Safety and Well-Being Council for further research and collaboration. Further, the comprehensive report is going to the Western Wardens Caucus for information, and will be sent to the local MP and MPP at the request of Coun. Todd Kasenberg.

By Melissa Dunphy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 30, 2023 at 07:15

This item reprinted with permission from   Listowel Banner   Listowel, Ontario

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