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Ontario government ignored warnings ahead of botched blue license plate deployment, documents say

Ontario government ignored warnings ahead of botched blue license plate deployment, documents say

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation was warned of the visibility issues as the Ford government tested its now-discontinued blue license plates and received clear recommendations to improve readability that were not acted upon, according to documents obtained by CBC News Show.

The plaques were removed after being widely criticized by police and the public after people realized they were nearly impossible to read under certain lighting conditions.

CBC News first filed Freedom of Information requests regarding the failed deployment in February 2020. Full responses were only provided this summer, and these new documents showed the government should have known that the plates would cause problems before hitting the road.

These warnings included messages from the 407 ETR, which operates the main toll highway through the Greater Toronto Area, and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP). The government also failed to send test plates to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) until the plates were made public on February 1, 2020, according to the documents.

The CBSA emailed the government requesting a demo plaque three days later to see if they were working with its readers. “Otherwise, every vehicle that crosses the border with the new plates will not be read correctly and this will dramatically increase border wait times across the province and country,” the agency said in an email.

The CBSA received a plate 10 days later and two weeks later publicly stated that there had been no widespread delay, although employees had to manually enter which province the plates came from.

Toronto officials have also raised concerns about the size of the “Ontario” font on blue plaques.

On February 13, city staff told Department of Transportation (MTO) officials that provincial offenses officers were having serious difficulty in the city.

“The problem with the plates [in the officers’ experience] is not retroreflectivity or glare, but legibility of jurisdiction, ”an MTO official wrote in an email following a meeting.

“This is problematic because if the name of the court is not clearly legible, the charge cannot be brought, or if a charge is laid and the image is blurry, the charge will be dismissed out of court. . “

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced that blue plates will be phased out in May 2020 and white plates with embossed blue letters will be back. “I’m just not ready to devote more resources to this,” he told reporters at the time. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

The government removed license plates in May 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Premier Doug Ford telling reporters: “I’m just not ready to devote more resources to this . “

The plaques were meant to be a symbol of a new government of “progress, growth and prosperity,” House Leader Paul Calandra said the month of their publication. Opposition critics, including former interim Liberal leader John Fraser, have criticized them as a poorly implemented “vanity project”.

The plates are still valid; MTO wouldn’t say how many are still on the road today.

MTO also did not respond to a series of questions about the details revealed in the documents obtained through Freedom of Information and declined an interview.

Earlier, the government said it planned to send “improved” replacement plates to the approximately 49,000 people who received blue plates, but that has yet to happen.

Public, police immediately reported problems

More freedom of information documents show the Ford government was inundated with criticism. Here’s what people (whose names have been redacted from the documents) told the government in the weeks after the launch:

  • “From seeing them myself at night, I can say that the plates are practically illegible even at a short distance and that would prevent people from identifying and reporting vehicles for any reason (orange alerts, unsafe drivers). , etc.). “
  • “I work in law enforcement in our province and it became evident from day one that the new license plates
    were not effective. New plates are barely visible [in] low light which is also proving to be the most vulnerable time of day for law enforcement. These plates must be stopped immediately. “
  • “I have religiously used a dashcam for years that cannot read new license plates at night. This is imperative because, in the event of a hit-and-run, whether I am in the car or not, my dashcam must be able to capture the numbers If that is not possible, it is pointless and that worries me.

Kingston Police Sgt. Steve Koopman, posted this photo of a car the night after the blue plates were deployed. Documents show the government faced strong backlash as soon as the plates hit the road. (Sgt Steve Koopman / Twitter)

At least one police department in the GTA – the Peel Regional Police – said this month its officers are still reporting problems seeing the plates “under specific lighting conditions.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t track specific statistics to find out how often agents are facing this issue,” Const said. Sarah Patten in an email.

Who received a demonstration plaque?

The government sent test plaques to various police forces and the OACP, although it missed some key organizations.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Toronto Police, RCMP and OACP have all received plates to test, but others have not. The CBSA or the City of Toronto Division were also not responsible for the photo radars and red lights.

In November 2019, during the testing phase, things seemed to be going well.

The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services said the Solicitor General told them the plates were easily read by the Ontario Provincial Police’s Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) systems in all of its operations. test conditions. (The OPP, interviewed this summer, said it had no issues with the plates in circulation.)

You won’t see so many blue plaques on Toronto’s freeways these days, but at least one area police department said this week its officers are still reporting issues with them. (Patrick Morrell / CBC)

But after the plates were deployed in February 2020, the OPP and local police on the road started filing complaints.

Officers from Chatham to Orillia in Ottawa were having difficulty reading the plates under different angles and lighting conditions, an MTO official wrote following a call with the OPP. The OPP also received a multitude of media calls about the plaques.

The MTO email indicates that officers were asked “whether they had encountered these issues before or after all the media attention to them.” Ottawa said they were victims before the media ”.

Ignored recommendations

Before the plates were released to the public, the OACP and 407 ETR sent similar recommendations to the government on how to improve the readability of the plates.

The government does not seem to have listened to both sides.

The OACP and 407 ETR have called for changes, including:

  • Engraving of numbers and letters.
  • Reduce the width of the characters to allow more spacing.
  • Removal of the white border on the plates.
  • Keep the crown in the middle of the plate.
  • Create brighter retro-reflective lettering and enhance contrast. (Retroreflective means that a surface reflects a large amount of a light beam back to its source, making it highly visible in low light conditions.)

By the end of February 2020, the 407 had adjusted the angles of its cameras to capture the plates, but preliminary tests showed that it only succeeded about 90% of the time, compared to about 97% with the previous plates.

If the government had listened to the 407’s advice two months before, it might have avoided some of the problems.

“When comparing the reflectivity and contrast between the old and the new plate, the new plate performed poorly. The new plate design is poor in terms of contrast and retroreflectivity,” a 407 engineer warned. ETR, Craig White, in December during the testing phase. .

The 407 declined an interview this week.

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