Decade-old ruling allows Vancouver bus drivers dodge red-light camera fines

·National Affairs Contributor

As a sometime Vancouver transit user, I appreciate the work bus drivers do.

They manhandle huge vehicles — sometimes those extra-long, bendy buses — through crowded city streets, dealing with surly, occasionally even violent riders, all while keeping to tight schedules.

I've seen them sail through orange-turning-red lights with a tap on the horn to make sure they don't collect an unwary pedestrian or another vehicle anticipating the light change. They don't want to brake hard to stop, potentially sending the strap-hangers flying. Fair enough.

But what I didn't know is that drivers get essentially a free pass if they are caught on camera blowing a red light.

CTV News reports that automated red-light cameras generated about 230 tickets for TransLink buses in the last five years. Each is worth $167, which adds up to almost $40,000.

But no driver has paid one of those tickets since 2002, when TransLink challenged one of the red-light infractions in court.

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The publicly-owned transit authority argued its system of warnings, driver training and the potential for suspensions was as good at discouraging red-light running as a ticket. And the judge bought it.

Think about this for a minute. How many jobs are there where you can break the law and the courts will allow your employer to discipline you?

Transit operators in other cities, including Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Toronto, told CTV News their drivers have to pay their own tickets. QMI Agency reported a couple of years ago that Calgary transit and city fleet drivers who break traffic laws must pay their fines.

The union representing TransLink drivers defended the practice of avoiding the fines, saying the internal system of discipline was a better deterrent.

“It’s way more costly if you get more than one ticket than if you pay out of pocket because if you look at a three-day suspension, that’s a lot of pay out of drivers’ pockets,” Don MacLeod told CTV News.

TransLink spokeswoman Patricia MacNeil said offending drivers are retrained by instructors from the Crown-owned Insurance Corp. of B.C. Two offences can result in suspension and a third could result in dismissal, she told 24 Hours.

So, how many repeat offenders have been suspended since 2002? Maybe one or two, MacLeod said.

MacLeod said drivers have to weigh many factors in deciding whether it's safe to come to a stop at a light, including passenger safety.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s not about paying attention,” MacLeod said. “It’s because he or she made the decision, ‘I have no other choice here.’ ”

B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond was unaware TransLink drivers were allowed to skirt fines.

“I’m surprised that there appears to be a separate standard, but I’ll certainly take a look at it,” Bond said Tuesday.

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But Bond also said prosecuting the drivers would be difficult and expensive, since previous cases have allowed the "defence of due diligence" in the decision to run the light if drivers are considered well-trained.

“As frustrating as I know this must sound to most British Columbians … many red light ticket prosecutions would not be successful,” Bond said in a statement, according to 24 Hours.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation predictably lamented the practice's impact on the public purse, the loss of fine revenues and the cost of retraining the ticketed drivers.

“There are two sets of laws in this country,” spokesman Jordan Bateman said. “One for government workers, and one for the rest of us."

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