Toronto police tickets fell to new low in 2019, continuing a decline that has the city out tens of millions in revenue

Toronto police ticketing for provincial offences including violations of the Highway Traffic Act fell to a new low in 2019, continuing a years-long decline that has represented a drop of tens of millions in revenue to the City of Toronto.

New records provided to the Star by the city show police laid 200,788 provincial offence charges in 2019, returning $13.9 million in revenue to the city. Both figures are a slight decline from 2018, which itself saw Toronto police lay fewer traffic tickets than any other year last decade.

Tickets under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act — for speeding, distracted driving, blowing through a stop sign, making an improper turn and more — make up the vast majority of provincial offence charges laid by Toronto police. The total also includes tickets given under other provincial laws, such as the Liquor Licence Act. Any fines are collected by the city’s Court Services department, not police.

City budget documents show revenue from Toronto police tickets has fallen sharply in the last decade, most steeply after 2013, the year police disbanded a dedicated traffic enforcement squad.

In 2010, at the height of police ticketing, Toronto police officers laid nearly 700,000 charges, and those made up more than 90 per cent of provincial tickets recorded by Court Services. That year, the department brought in more than $60 million in revenue from fines.

It is impossible to know exactly how much the city has lost in annual revenue from police tickets since 2010 as courts only recently began to track revenues by charge, city spokesperson Cheryl San Juan said in an email. (In 2014, the city attributed a $29.6-million shortfall to the unexpected drop in Toronto police tickets. The 2019 records show a further 22 per cent drop in charges since 2014.)

The new records provided to the Star show Toronto police continued to charge fewer drivers with traffic offences last year even as collisions and deaths remained high three years into the city’s Vision Zero road-safety initiative.

In an email, Toronto police spokesperson Connie Osborne said the service is working closely with the city on traffic enforcement and is fully committed to Vision Zero.

“Enforcement is broad and cannot be measured by the issuing of tickets alone,” she said, adding the service “is committed to focusing effort and resources in an intelligence-led way, with emphasis being placed more on the quality of our efforts, rather than the quantity.”

Asked about the loss of revenue to the city, Osborne said: “Our traffic enforcement assignments are never for revenue-based reasons.”

Toronto police “enforcement assignments are carried out to address problematic driving behaviours and enhance compliance, to ultimately better protect those using our roads,” she said.

Scarborough Centre Coun. Michael Thompson told the Star he has not yet heard a “tangible, or at least plausible” explanation for the long-term decline in Toronto police tickets, which has created a “challenging” loss of revenue for the city.

“A $30-million amount would equal a loss of about one per cent of city tax revenue,” he said. “We need to understand why exactly it’s happening.”

What’s more, Thompson said, considering the rate of deaths and injuries on city streets, “we should be doing more enforcement, not simply for the revenue.”

A Star analysis last year found a similar decline in more serious criminal driving charges, such as impaired driving or dangerous driving, could not be attributed to the 2013 closure of the traffic enforcement squad, which had nearly 40 uniform staff, and instead came as regular officers across the city charged fewer drivers. A new smaller squad of eight officers was reinstated starting this year.

In the last 10 years, Toronto police Highway Traffic Act charges have fallen much faster than elsewhere in the GTA. Meanwhile, Toronto streets have seen more collisions and deaths.

According to police records, collisions rose 45 per cent between 2010 and 2018, the most recent year with available data.

In both 2018 and 2019, 42 pedestrians were killed on Toronto streets, more than double 2010.

In recent years, the loss of revenue from police charges has been made up in part by the increased use of red-light cameras. Those cameras are managed by the city, not police, and return significantly more money per violation — about $210 on average versus about $70 per police ticket, city documents show.

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There are nearly 150 red-light cameras installed throughout the city. An expansion was approved in 2017 as part of the city’s Vision Zero efforts.

The city laid more than twice as many red-light camera tickets in 2019 as in 2010, returning $17.3 million in revenue last year.

Even so, the city’s records show more than 20,000 red-light camera tickets that were budgeted for did not materialize in 2019 and overall revenue fell $4.5 million short of expectations.

In an email, city spokesperson Hakeem Muhammad said the shortfall can be explained by a number of factors, including heavy snowfall, unexpected events, improved compliance from Toronto drivers and the challenge of projecting ticket volumes at sites with no prior history of charges.

Nevertheless, he said, intersections with red-light cameras have seen significant reductions in collisions, injuries and deaths. “Our expectation is that we will continue to see a reduction in these types of collisions as the program is expanded,” he said.

In total, the city’s Court Services department saw a $7.5-million revenue shortfall on budgeted revenue of $51 million last year

Toronto is increasingly relying on automated enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act, a shift Toronto police have long called for.

This year, the city is budgeting that 209,000 drivers will be caught by the city’s new “automated speed enforcement” cameras, bringing in nearly $17 million in revenue to the city.

About 50 of the photo-radar speed cameras have been installed near school zones. Drivers are being mailed warnings as part of a three-month educational campaign, after which real tickets will start being mailed out.

Citations from both the speed and red-light cameras are sent to the address where vehicles are registered, which means the owner, not the driver, gets the ticket. Drivers caught by either camera will not be given demerit points.

Four of the new speed devices, each weighing 365 kilograms — roughly the weight of a grand piano — and costing about $50,000, were stolen between late December and early January, the city told the Star earlier this month.

Mayor John Tory first announced the city’s Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic deaths in the summer of 2016. The most recent iteration of the plan includes reduced speed limits on some roads, street-design changes to naturally slow drivers and the reinstated traffic enforcement squad.

Safety advocates have welcomed automated enforcement, but note the new speed cameras are not currently slated for placement on major arterial streets. In recent years, many pedestrians have been hit while crossing the city’s larger suburban thoroughfares.

With files from David Rider and May Warren

Ed Tubb

Ed Tubb is an assignment editor and a contributor focused on crime and justice. He is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @edtubb



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