Emails: School bus cameras will generate millions in revenue for GCPS, county

A contract to install stop-arm cameras on Gwinnett school buses, which has been in the works for more than a year, is expected to mean millions of dollars in revenue annually for Gwinnett County and Gwinnett County Public Schools.

According to e-mails obtained by the Daily Post through the Freedom of Information Act, once expenses are met with Redflex Traffic Systems, which is estimated to be within four to six months from the start of the program, Gwinnett County could see $1.5 million annually after 300 buses are fully operational.

Annual revenue is expected to be $1 million for GCPS, while Redflex is expected to receive $4.1 million from fines collected, which translates to $2.5 million in revenue. A Redflex spokeswoman said the contract is the largest of its kind for the company.

No out-of-pocket costs will be paid by Gwinnett County until revenues are received to pay for Redflex expenses.

“This accomplishes your goal and the goal of the county to remain cost neutral until the program generates enough fines proceeds to cover our program expenses,” wrote Jillian Meinke, director of Redflex’ Student Guardian, in an April 16 e-mail to Danny Jardine, GCPS’ chief operations officer. “Once program expenses are exceeded Gwinnett will retain all incremental collections.”

The agreement is expected to go before the Gwinnett County Board of Education on June 19 for approval at its regular monthly meeting, and officials with Redflex and GCPS expect a contract to be signed by June 30, according to a review of 370 e-mails between Redflex and GCPS by the Daily Post.

The agreement is expected to be for five years and renew annually.

The program is violator-funded and first offenders are expected to pay $300, second-time violators would pay $500 and third-time offenders $750. GCPS School Resource Officers are expected to review potential stop-arm violations and approve any illegal school bus stop arm passing violation to issue a citation.

During a pilot run in the 2012-13 school year, GCPS used four buses that recorded 444 violations, and received reports of 1,903 violations from drivers who were not driving buses with cameras. CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks has also said that about 2,000 motorists run a bus stop sign every day, and added that the district got into the project for safety, not money.

GCPS operates about 1,900 school buses that transport more than 126,000 students twice a day, believed to be the third-largest operation of its kind in the country.

Installation of cameras is expected to begin with 50 to 100 units before August, while the remaining 200 wouldn’t happen until September. The first tickets are expected to be issued in mid-September.

To meet those deadline expectations, Redflex expected to begin shipping units to arrive this week.

“This is critical so that we can ensure we have enough units (with spares) on-site and tested prior to our first week of installation,” Meinke wrote in a May 21 e-mail to Phil Duffy, Barry Rooker and Grant Reppert, who work in the operations and transportation departments of GCPS.

Redflex and GCPS reached this point after the school district awarded the bid to Redflex in July in what officials called a proactive step toward safety. But spokeswomen for GCPS and Redflex said the delays with the contract are related to legal information, a bid protest from a competitor and working with and training individual stakeholders such as law enforcement and other government entities.

“On our end, we’ve been really excited about the opportunity to move forward as quickly and efficiently and correctly as we could,” Redflex spokeswoman Jody Ryan said. “We’re just focused on making sure all the details are right.”

GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach agreed.

“We want to make sure we’re putting the time in to make sure this is successful, and we want to make sure if we take a little extra time, that it’s done right,” said Roach, who added there’s an educational component for motorists and bus drivers.

Ryan also added that there isn’t a set timeframe to roll out a program, and each district and community is a little different when it comes to weather, routes and local enforcement of the program.

Redflex was previously involved in a bribery investigation in Chicago, a fact Gwinnett School Board members have said they were not briefed on before the July meeting when they awarded the bid. In September, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said at the regular BOE meeting that there was nothing to disqualify Redflex.

In Feburary, Wilbanks admitted to the Daily Post that he didn’t read the contract, which ran about 150 pages, beyond the executive summary, and therefore couldn’t inform the BOE of the bribery investigation.

In at least two cases, Redflex representatives updated their GCPS counterparts by e-mail of the legal proceedings in Chicago.

Ryan also said Redflex has also renewed or executed more than 100 contracts since corrective actions throughout the company were announced in March, 2013 following the Chicago incident.

Yet in Gwinnett, there have been two known target dates for the rollout missed.

In a press release on July 31, Redflex officials said GCPS “plans to initiate the program with the installation of 100 school buses by Labor Day. It expects to outfit up to 40 percent of its school bus fleet later in the school year.”

Then in an e-mail sent on Dec. 13, a potential launch date of April 14 was mentioned by Meinke to Jardine and Duffy, executive director operations, which also referenced having up to 200 systems installed with a complete back office by March 15.

The latest target date is to have some buses outfitted by cameras by late July when bus drivers begin work for the new school year in time for the first day of school, Aug. 5.

“Once we have board approval, we could be ready to begin installations as early as June 23rd (ahead of contract signing) in order to hit our shared goal of having 100-150 units installed by the end of the July,” Meinke wrote in an e-mail on May 21.