Backlash growing against red light cameras

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Associated Press

Posted on July 6, 2010 at 1:06 AM

DALLAS  -- Public support for the use of red light cameras in
Texas and across the country could be switching from green to
yellow.

   Three states -- Maine, Mississippi and Montana -- banned red light
cameras last year, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures. Six others have considered similar proposals.

   In Texas, voters forced College Station to take down its cameras
last fall while opponents in Houston say they have enough petition
signatures to put the cameras to a vote this fall. Camera opponents
in the Texas Legislature say they plan again to try to pass a
measure phasing out the cameras statewide.

   "There is a backlash, for sure," state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr.,
D-Corpus Christi, who co-sponsored the anti-camera push, told The
Dallas Morning News. "City budgeters are counting on these fines
as a revenue stream and simply using the argument of safety as
cover."

   But cities using the red camera systems, which capture images,
and sometimes video of drivers running red lights, insist they have
reduced intersection accidents and saved lives.

   "They've performed much better than I ever imagined," said
Elizabeth Ramirez, chief traffic engineer for Dallas.

   She said Dallas has seen declines in red-light accidents at
nearly every one of its 59 camera-equipped intersections since the
first wave launched in January 2007.

   While camera critics dispute the safety data, the money
generated has raised eyebrows as collections have pushed into the
tens of millions.

   With most Texas cities charging civil fines of between $75 and
$100 per violation, collections across the state have reached more
than $103 million since a revised red-light camera law took effect
in 2007. State figures show Houston has collected the largest
amount: about $24 million through May.

   A 2007 state law requires cities to set aside half of all
profits to help fund regional trauma care centers. Most cities use
their share for traffic safety and enforcement efforts.

   Houston police Sgt. Michael Muench, who oversees that city's
red-light camera program, said his department has put its revenues
into crash-scene investigation equipment, extra traffic patrols,
radar guns and other traffic-related improvements.

   An analysis of state figures and the vendor agreements of about
a dozen Texas cities show the contracts cities have with camera
vendors are the biggest factor in whether a city makes money.
Cities rent the cameras from vendors under negotiated terms.

   Houston's $24 million in collections since 2007 is more than
triple the total fines collected by Dallas, according to figures
from the state comptroller's office. And in the last two years,
Dallas' program has cost more to run than Houston's.

   Houston pays a flat monthly fee of $3,000 per camera, plus
bonuses if a camera catches a high number of violations. Dallas
pays its vendor $3,800 per camera per month. Houston, which has 70
cameras, uses American Traffic Solutions Inc., of Arizona. Dallas
has 59 cameras and uses Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services.

   Paul Kubosh, a Houston traffic attorney who has led the Houston
petition drive to repeal the cameras, accuses the city of "selling
the streets to the highest bidder. It's a voter revolt."

 

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