Contract for school zone speed cameras in Atlanta comes under fire

A new state law was passed in 2018 to regulate drivers in school zones and near school buses. (AJC File)
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A new state law was passed in 2018 to regulate drivers in school zones and near school buses. (AJC File)

An agreement between the city of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools that will generate revenue from speeding drivers is coming under fire from a speed-camera company and an Atlanta councilman.

Three years ago, a new state law allowed schools to deploy automated speed-detection cameras in school zones, with local governments taking a cut of the ticket revenue. Since then, dozens of Georgia cities and counties have installed speed cameras around schools to cite speedsters and rake in extra cash to use on public safety initiatives.

APS and the city plan to partake in a school zone speeding camera program, but not everyone is pleased with how they’ve gone about it. RedSpeed, a competitor to the firm that APS is partnering with to install the cameras, has privately argued to city and APS officials that the process the school district took was improper since it did not follow a competitive bidding process.

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City Councilman Michael Julian Bond introduced a resolution directing the city to conduct its own search for a camera company to contract with. The measure was discussed during the Council’s public safety committee meeting Monday, but Council members voted against it after the city’s top legal and procurement officials said the program and contract fall with APS, not the city.

The debate comes a week after the City Council voted to enter into an agreement with APS to begin collecting ticket revenue from speed cameras at schools. The agreement technically altered an existing contract that APS has with Arizona-based company Verra Mobility, which has contracted with the school district for the last five years to install cameras on the arms of school buses and ticket drivers that go around them.

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Under the new agreement, for each $75 speeding ticket issued, Verra is set to get $25, with the city getting $33 and APS $17.

Bond’s resolution criticized that deal, saying the city should consider all options.

“The goal is noble. We should act with expediency to make sure that these school zones are safe,” Bond said in an interview Monday. “At the same time, in our urgency, we just shouldn’t leapfrog the process, not knowing if we’re getting the right kind of skill and value for this type of work.”

With the city getting a cut of each ticket issued, the agreement could generate millions of dollars for the city and school system and should be subject to a competitive bidding process, he said.

RedSpeed sent a letter to APS in January objecting to the process. It also pushed for a competitive bidding process.

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The agreement “would subject both APS and the city of Atlanta to unnecessary scrutiny and jeopardy, at a time when the city of Atlanta is trying to turn the corner on a multi-year federal corruption probe,” Michael McAllister, who does government relations work for RedSpeed, wrote in the letter, which was obtained through a Georgia Open Records Act request. The letter was also sent to the city.

The school district said in a statement Monday that its legal team “is reviewing this matter and will respond, if appropriate, at a later date.”

The city of Brookhaven approved a partnership with RedSpeed last year.
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The city of Brookhaven approved a partnership with RedSpeed last year.

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Atlanta City Attorney Nina Hickson and Chief Procurement Officer Martin Clarke both told Council members during Monday’s meeting that APS is responsible for the contract and selecting a company, since Georgia law requires schools to apply for a permit to install speed cameras.

RedSpeed says that interpretation is false. The firm argues that the city should manage the contract since they have jurisdiction over many of the roads in Atlanta and the city’s police department and municipal court would write the tickets and issue any fines.

Over the past few years, RedSpeed has partnered with dozens of city and county governments across the state to launch school zone camera programs. RedSpeed typically takes a 35% cut of ticket revenues, the rest goes to local government.

“We are trying to make sure the citizens of Atlanta get the best deal by competitive bidding of a six year, $100 million contract and the city maintains control over a vendor that will be working with the police department every day enforcing traffic laws,” McAllister said in a statement Monday. “The law requires it and we know the citizens rightly expect and deserve that.”