Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dallas will inactivate some red light cameras that worked "too well"

One of the things that makes me skeptical about red light cameras are the dramatic success rates touted by vendors. Since the companies make their profits off of each ticket, if they really worked as well as proponents, say, they quickly would not be cost effective to operate.

That's supposedly what's happening in Dallas after they implemented red light cameras, much to my surprise (I'm not sure I've heard of cities having the "too much success" problem before). Cities installing red light cameras all inevitably say they're doing so for public safety, but now that they turn out not to be a revenue generator, the City of Dallas will scale back plans to expand the cameras further. As a result, reports the Dallas News ("Dallas red light cameras may face changes as revenue estimates drop," March 18):

one likely recommendation to the council is scaling back Dallas' plans to expand the red-light system to 100 cameras.

The council in September voted to expand its camera vendor contract with Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, from five years and $13.3 million to seven years and $29.1 million, in order to install the additional cameras.

Initial plans envisioned most of the additional cameras operating by spring. Ms. Basora said installing fewer cameras would probably be more cost-effective.

Another idea staff may recommend to council members is idling cameras on a rotating basis, which the city already has begun doing, or operating them at different intersections where red-light running is more habitual.

In the first case, cameras will remain perched above the intersections they monitor but won't snap pictures of red-light runners, and therefore, won't generate $75 civil citations, which the city mails to the offending vehicles' owners.

Ms. Basora noted, however, that most motorists won't realize this and behave as if the cameras are operational.

Dallas pays ACS a guaranteed $3,799 per month for each operational camera, and just a fraction of that to maintain inoperative cameras.

Safety vs. money

The results of Dallas' 2-year-old red-light camera system are mixed blessings for City Hall, Mayor Tom Leppert said.

"The good news is it's having the effect everyone in this community wants: fewer red lights being run. The goal was not to make money on this," Mr. Leppert said. "But these are numbers and realities we'll have to deal with."

The mayor added that under no circumstances does he expect a decrease in red-light camera revenue to affect the city's public safety budget, although the overall budget may not enjoy as much revenue, perhaps resulting in the city streamlining other items.

So the city not only implemented the program anticipating new revenue, they shortchanged taxation for basic services anticipating the difference would be made up with revenue from these cameras! As they say on South Park, "Officer Barbrady, I call 'shenanigans'!"

Doesn't it seem like, if red light running is as big a public safety concern as proponents said when the cameras were installed (when anyone who criticized them was said to oppose "saving lives") they should be worth the money to operate?

The only reason to inactivate cameras is if their real goal was to generate a revenue stream, and they've been installed in places where red light running isn't a big safety concern.

I don't know quite what to say about this news story. Part of me wanted to write a post that said, "Well, maybe they do work," though I'd like to see more detail about the revenue dropoff, payment rates, etc.. But the hypocrisy of Dallas now idling cameras because they don't generate revenue,
especially after so much whining and dramatic rhetoric about safety and Bad Ol' Dangerous Red Light Runners, leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and makes me think the cameras really were just about revenue all along.

RELATED: Lubbock discontinues red light cameras after accidents increase 52%. See also coverage from MSNBC.


Anonymous said...

So you take issue with them deactivating them in areas where they aren't effective because they aren't catching light runners (meaning it's a relatiely safe intersection that does not need them for public safety reasons)?

Man, you bitch when they go in, and bitch when they gree with you and take some out.

You just can't be pleased. Are you really a woman?

Anonymous said...

Traffic control in many small Texas towns is all about revenue. God bless them, it is the only way they can get by. It is surprising that a city the size of Dallas is still trying to make money on traffic tickets.

I'm should think they would view traffic congestion as a problem to be solved. Road improvements, better freeways, synchronization of red lights go farther to improve public safety than handing out tickets. Enforcing arbitrary speed limits or pulling folks over for failure to signal a left turn do very little to solve traffic problems. Enforcement that reflect the condition of the road, the number of cars, the weather and unsafe driving such as weaving in and out of traffic actually improve driver safety.

Texas has a lot to learn about how to make life liveable in a big city. The city's problem with traffic light cameras that actually work by stopping violations and therefore revenue streams is pretty pathetic........

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"You just can't be pleased. Are you really a woman?"

So rage, Dallas says it's implementing cameras to reduce red light running. Now they say it "worked" and so they're SCRAPPING the cameras. And you accuse me of being inconsistent? Please!

Anonymous said...

Decreased violations in no way implies anything about the relative safety of the intersection Rage.

Garland has been struggling with this same issue for like a year now.

Of course, if an agency were to spend $3,600 in overtime for officer based enforcement (assuming $50 an hour) you could put an officer at the intersection doing enforcement for say, one of the rush periods (am or pm) each day for the entire month almost. Seeing cops pulling over people at intersection each and every week day will make motorist very well behaved at that intersection. If he writes 12 tickets every 3 hours it should be revenue positive, just as the cameras were supposed to be.

Yet unlike the camera, the office has the spillover effects of clearing warrants, nabbing a couple DWI perhaps, and a multitude of other violations.

Of course if it were truly about only safety they would have been willing to shell out the overtime too...

Anonymous said...

They didn't say revenue declined, the article said "estimates" declined. Big difference. That means these things didn't reduce red light running, they were just overhyped.

Here's what I can't get over. The vendor estimated high on how many tickets they would give, and now the Dallas city council has to cut other services?

You should call shenanigans! Forget red light cameras, their whole city budget is based on smoke and mirrors.

What services are they going to "cut" now because they believed all the hype about free money? That's a bunch of horses#!%