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Edmonton loses bid for appeal in battle to have transit operators pay photo radar fines

The City of Edmonton’s latest attempt to have transit operators pay their own photo radar fines has been quashed by Alberta’s highest court. 

City administration and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569 have been in a protracted legal dispute over who should pay for automated speeding and red-light camera tickets received by drivers on the job.

For years, the city required that drivers pay their own fines, but that policy was reversed following a June 2021 arbitration decision that sided with the transit union. 

The city’s application for permission to appeal that arbitration decision was rejected last week by the Court of Appeal of Alberta. 

In her decision issued on August 30, Chief Justice Ritu Khullar said she could find no errors of law in the previous decision and that the arbitration board’s ruling should stand.

City employees haven’t had to pay their own tickets since July 2021 but do face disciplinary action for workplace safety infractions, including photo radar tickets. 

Steve Bradshaw, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, said that after years of legal wrangling, the court ruling comes as a relief to his members, including bus drivers, peace officers and transit inspectors.

“The city pursued this vehemently,” Bradshaw said. “They took it every possible court that they could in this province and everybody said, ‘No, you’re you’re wrong, you can’t do that.'” 

“This disagreement has been running for five years and and to have it finally concluded, of course it’s a good day.”

City officials have not responded to a request for comment on the decision. 

Union wins in arbitration

The dispute over traffic enforcement fines began with a grievance filed by the transit union in July 2018 and heard by the Alberta Labour Relations Board in June 2021.

The union argued that requiring union members who drive city vehicles to pay their own photo enforcement tickets was unreasonable and violated the collective agreement. 

The union said city adminstration “was not actually out of pocket” by paying the fines as the photo radar enforcement program is administered by the city. 

The union further asserted that the policy amounted to double discipline, as drivers who were ticketed faced additional disciplinary measures for each infraction, ranging from written reprimands to unpaid suspensions and ultimately, termination. 

“We don’t condone a violation of the law on the road during a work day,” Bradshaw said. 

“It really comes down to being disciplined twice and frankly, our members would prefer to just pay the ticket and be done with it and modify their own behaviour. But it’s the city’s choice.

“It can require the operator to pay the ticket or issue discipline, but it can’t do both.” 

During the arbitration hearing, the city argued that the policy was not disciplinary, that drivers should take responsibility for breaking the law by paying their own tickets, and that safety was “a critical priority.”

The city also noted that about 40 per cent of the revenue from photo radar tickets was funnelled out of city coffers, largely to the provincial government. 

In a split decision in June 2021, the three-person arbitration panel sided with the union.

Describing the policy as unreasonable, the panel ruled the city was essentially paying itself by making transit drivers responsible for their own tickets.

The board ordered that drivers who had paid their own fines since the grievance had been filed be compensated for the fines. The total cost of the compensation owed to drivers for tickets dating back to 2018 is about $34,000, Bradshaw said.

In February 2022, the union earned another arbitration win. 

In a grievance, the union reported that transit operators were still being asked to pay their own fines. The labour relations board reiterated that the city must reimburse affected operators and stop enforcing its drivers-pay policy.  

In March 2023, the labour relations board rejected the city’s request for an additional review.

The Automated Traffic Enforcement program, established under a provincial mandate in 1990, was initially operated by Edmonton police.  

The city assumed full responsibility for program in 2012. Some version of the driver-pay policy had been in force since 2001. 

The union spent nearly $100,000 to take the dispute to its conclusion, Bradshaw said. He said the city has “wasted” much more than that fighting the policy.

“It’s been a long haul. The city was vehemently opposed to this,” he said. 

“They pursued it as far as they could, but it is concluded now as far as we understand and going forward, our members will receive one discipline, one penalty, instead of two for each infraction.”

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