Private operators to run mobile speed cameras instead of police for the first time

Private operators are set to run mobile speed cameras across the country.
Private operators are set to run mobile speed cameras across the country. Photo credit: Getty Images (file)

Story by RNZ

Private operators, instead of police, will run mobile speed cameras on highways nationwide for the first time.

Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency put out a tender a week ago to run the country's 45 mobile cameras from next year.

It said the provider that won the contract would not issue speeding tickets or get bonuses for pinging more drivers.

Waka Kotahi would have responsibility for processing the images and issuing fines, as well as deciding where and when the cameras would be placed.

Bidders must show they can meet future requirements, "which could include point-to-point mobile operations", the tender said.

The move comes as Waka Kotahi readies to take over all of New Zealand's mobile cameras - as well as 150 fixed speed cameras - from police by July 2025.

It also aims to add another 50 fixed cameras soon.

Waka Kotahi already has a contract with United States company Verro Mobility to start running the fixed cameras from later this year. These run on automated number plate recognition (ANPR) software.

The agency has previously estimated the whole system upgrade will triple the number of camera-issued tickets to three million a year by 2030, and increase prosecutions to around 3300.

It had been aiming to achieve an "anywhere, anytime" camera deterrent to cut average speeds by between 20 and 30 percent, and increase driver compliance with speed limits by 60 percent. However, the coalition government may change that directive.

Waka Kotahi said neither it, nor the provider, would receive any funds from mobile cameras, with all fees going to the government consolidated fund.

The mobile camera tender, which has a deadline of mid-April, is for spot-speed tickets only, using the private company's unbranded vehicles and staff.

Under the new contract, speed tolerances will be set by the Director of Land Transport.

"Internationally, it is a well-established practice for mobile camera operations on the roadside to be delivered by a third-party operator," Waka Kotahi said.

The footage captured will be sent to Sydney, to data centres run by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, and be retained for 30 days while Waka Kotahi assesses it.

The agency has been warned to manage the risks around "the public's trust and confidence in the system".

A privacy impact assessment three months ago told Waka Kotahi to safeguard the personal data that cameras caught, and strike a balance between automation using artificial intelligence and human oversight.

The privacy assessment showed Waka Kotahi wanted to quadruple the number of fixed cameras nationwide, to 800 in a decade.

But the agency pulled back on that this week, telling RNZ any expansion beyond 200 cameras was up to the government.

As for mobile cameras, Waka Kotahi "does not have a specific number of cameras that we are expecting to be in use, but will specify a number of hours of operation per year", it said.

Tickets issued by the mobile cameras look likely to expand beyond speed limit breaches. Bidders must show they have the potential to spot people without seatbelts on and drivers using cellphones.

Bidders must also have a track record in a comparable market such as Australia. Europe or the US, and be able to set up in New Zealand by next January.

"A high degree of evidential accuracy and assurance is required" along with effective cybersecurity, the tender said.

The tender is giving only a very small weighting - five percent - to a bid's broader benefits, such as to job creation in New Zealand.

Waka Kotahi said whoever won the tender would be monitored and audited, including in its responsibilities to keep its mobile camera operators safe.

In 2021, a police operator was badly hurt when a car was deliberately driven into a mobile camera van at about 150kph.

WorkSafe originally charged police over the incident, then dropped the charge when police agreed last month to a suite of health and safety measures.