It’s about time we rethink how traffic fine revenue is shared in BC. This funding is shared between various municipalities around the province, with the government acting as arbiter of who gets some and how much. Municipalities ultimately don’t have much say on how big their slice of traffic revenue will be, or even if they get any in the first place. They can argue, they can appeal, but at the end of the day, the provincial government tells them how much they are going to receive. Municipalities lack bargaining chips. All they can do is shut up and take the money. Or not take the money, as is the case for many small towns.
Here is a list of where $51.4 million in traffic fine revenue went this year. Large municipalities received the lion’s share of funding such as Vancouver ($12 million), Surrey ($6.4 million), Burnaby ($2.4 million) and Victoria ($1.9 million). Meanwhile, there are many small towns on the list that received no traffic fine revenue at all. It’s true that the smaller municipalities receive aid in the form of Small Community and Regional District Grants, however, this money pales in comparison to traffic fine revenue payments.
Of course the government would argue that larger municipalities need it more. They have more people so their infrastructure is under more pressure. This is true. But, remember, this revenue is collected in addition to taxes we already pay. More people means they have more tax revenue. Some small towns, however, have little to no tax revenue. It’s a Catch-22. The municipalities need funding to provide for their inhabitants but they also need inhabitants to provide funding. This is particularly the case where large First Nations populations might be living off reserve but still in towns where they have little access to support. Many of them have acute social problems. When there are issues such as deprivation, substance abuse and homelessness, in small communities their effects are more amplified than larger areas.
Traffic fine revenue is a real opportunity to tip the scales just a little bit to help out struggling communities. This money is on top of tax revenue so, in principle, should it really be used to maintain the status quo? This money could be used to address some inherent social issues that are often ignored.
The fact that traffic fine revenue has been falling over recent years, while good news for drivers, could make matters worse for local governments. Traffic ticket revenue totalled $58.1 million in 2016 to 2107 compared to $51.4 million this year.
There is good and bad news for municipalities in this regard. On the one hand, 140 red light cameras recently activated at intersections are expected to generate some extra revenue. On the other hand, the provincial government has not yet announced how it is going to share this revenue or even if it intends to keep some of it for itself.
Provincial Government also has little motive to increase fine revenue. It bears much of the costs in the form of courts, administration and provincial policing but it enjoys few benefits in the form of cash. This arrangement might go some way to explain why traffic fine revenue has been falling.
It’s particularly hard for me, a lawyer who specializes in driving law, to advocate for more traffic enforcement, but if the government has to take this money from us, is it too much to ask that we get a say in where it goes? Like places where it could make a real difference.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.