Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harris County rebuffs Houston's drive for red-light camera revenue

As a long-time critic of using red-light cameras as revenue-generation schemes, I was interested to see this story in the Houston Chronicle ("County to City: Do not pass go," Oct. 20) about a city-county dispute over using coercive methods to force payment from ticketed drivers. Reported James Pinkerton:
The city's plan to withhold vehicle registrations of motorists who have ignored $16 million worth of red-light camera citations has hit a roadblock at the county courthouse.
The county judge and three county commissioners oppose a proposed city-county scofflaw contract, with some describing it as a money-grab by the city and others concerned it could hamper collection of the county's portion of state vehicle registration fees.
“The downside is becoming a tool of the city for their incredible revenue grab,“ Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said. “It's come to look like it's more of a revenue situation than trying to change people's behavior.”
Only the county tax office, after executing a contract approved by the commissioners court, can refuse vehicle registrations based on non-payment of citations and fines, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation said Monday.
At stake is some $16 million in uncollected civil fines from motorists caught by 70 red-light cameras since the city program began in May 2006. To date, the city has issued 607,000 violations and collected $21.3 million in fines.
Interestingly, there appears to be bipartisan consensus on the Commissioners Court against the deal, with El Franco Lee, Steve Radack, Jerry Eversole and Sylvia Garcia all speaking out against it. I was particularly pleased with Garcia's comments:
Garcia said she is concerned that residents whose registrations are blocked could face penalties if they are ticketed for an expired registration.
“All it does if you tack on fees, you're going to make if more difficult to collect and right now is not the time to be beating someone to death with fines and fees,” said Garcia, former chief of Houston municipal courts.
Obviously I agree the county on this dispute. IMO the red light cameras are only really there for revenue generation, anyway, since other measures like lengthening yellow light times are much more effective at reducing accidents in intersections. So I'm glad to see them pushing back at the city's drive to maximize revenue from this source. Good for them.


Anonymous said...

Houston has another money grab scheme. If you have city warrants and get pulled over by HPD, you are arrested. But you are given the option of paying your fines right then and there with a credit card. The officer calls someone at HQ that runs your credit card and once the charges are approved, they give immediate authorization to the officer to cut you loose, you are no longer a fugitive. The city gets their money, the officer isn't take off the street, the jail doesn't have to feed you, and you don't go to jail. Everyone's happy. Pretty slick.

Charles Kuffner said...

All due respect, Scott, but Harris County has no trouble enforcing its own fine collections, which includes throwing egregious violators into jail. If this were their money, they would not be expressing such concerns.

Anonymous said...

"If this were their money, they would not be expressing such concerns."

In fact, their expressed concern was that it would interfere with their money by keeping people from being able to pay to register their vehicles.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Charles, that's a good enough reason for me - as anon 6:16's example points out, there are unintended consequences and trickle down effects to steep fines. In this case, an entity that would be on the receiving end of those unintended consequences gets to have a say in the decision making process. That's usually not the case.

Luray va accommodations said...

It is create many rear end collisions as drivers stop short to avoid going through the yellow light. This is nothing but a revenue machine. I wonder if the cameras will be eliminated once the accident rate goes up, that only if they track it which most likely they will not.


dirty harry said...

Running a red light is a bigger ticket than the cost for car registration. It's a money grab. What do you expect? Houston is a sanctuary city. They have to find some creative ways to pay for it. Everyone should just pay up and be happy!

Anonymous said...

Well folks it happened to me. I went to refill my extag, noticed the section highlited on the web page for fines, clicked it and sure enough there were two tickets waiting. i called HCTRA and asked about them and was told that if i didn't pay the fines I won't be able to renew my license tags for my car. Unfortunately for them, somewhere down the line the ball got dropped and i got the new registration before they could put the "hold" on it...but yea this is valid and they really do put the hold on.

Anonymous said...

pay up and be happy!?? Wow, what a well trained slave...