Monday, February 1, 2010

Editorial Says Reducing Red Light Fines Not Good Idea

Washington state senator John Kastama of Puyallup and Representative Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw have recently introduced bills to reduce the fine from red light cameras to just $25.

An editorial in the Spokesman-Review today says that if that happens, cities like Spokane that have the controversial red light cameras would pay more to install and operate them than they would bring in in revenue.

The red light cameras are a hot topic around here. Any insight?


Anonymous said...

Red light fans? Do you mean fines? Check your spelling, folks.

SRTC Staff said...

Sorry about that, I'm trying to do 10 things at once so got a little sloppy on my blogging.

Steve said...

Having watched the evolution of the Spokane program, I have to agree with the legislators on this one.

If you go back through Teresa Fuller's public comments on the program, it's pretty obvious that she initially measured the success of the program by the amount of revenue.

To pick one example, here's a quote from a Spokesman-Review article from March 30, 2009:

As a result, 301 potential red-light violations captured on camera had to be thrown out, police Officer Teresa Fuller said at a recent meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

That’s about $37,000 in potential fines lost to the photo-red enforcement program, a revenue source to the city budget.

There are other examples where she focused on revenue. She has gotten smarter as time goes on and chooses her words more carefully, but the cat is already out of the bag. Even the most recent article tells us that "police estimate a profit of $103,000."

It doesn't matter if the revenue goes into traffic safety programs, it's still revenue to the city. Restricting it to traffic safety programs just means that $103,000 that would have otherwise have been spent on traffic safety can be moved to another item in the budget.

As long as there is a financial incentive for the city, there is potential for abuse of the program. If the budget needs to be expanded, it becomes all too easy to look for another intersection to tap as a revenue source for the city.

SRTC Staff said...

Thanks for the comment Steve. In defense of Ms. Fuller, the second part of the quote below isn't attributed to her, so I'm not sure it's Fuller's words or the newspaper reporter's:

"That’s about $37,000 in potential fines lost to the photo-red enforcement program, a revenue source to the city budget."

My concern is that, if you drop the fine down to $25, the City isn't even going to break even using this service. So they will be paying to issue tickets, but not even making enough to cover their costs. If City coffers were flush that might be okay, but as tight as everything is, it's not financially feasible right now. And if you were going to do that, why not just hire another police officer or two and have them give out tickets? That way at least you're providing some much-needed jobs.

I'm not pro- or -con red light camera, but I kind of don't see the point in just doing a $25 fine. It's not enough to discourage drivers from doing it again and it isn't enough to offset it's own cost.

Do you see it differently?

Steve said...

I wouldn't have the same concerns with a program that was revenue-neutral, meaning that the program covered its own costs exactly. Those costs include personnel costs of an officer to review the images captured from the camera and the cost of mailing and enforcing citations. That would eliminate any incentive for the city to deploy cameras to enhance revenues, leaving improved traffic safety as the only benefit the city would evaluate. (I'm ignoring the potential for pressure from the third-party company to put additional cameras in to increase their revenues.)

Ronald Reagan is purported to have said "If I could paraphrase a well-known statement by Will Rogers that he never met a man he didn't like - I'm afraid we have some people around here who never met a tax they didn't like." This is even better than that, since it's not a tax and anyone who opposes it can be accused of being against traffic safety.

It's way too easy for a few people to decide that cameras on a few more intersections and "necessary" for traffic safety. Perhaps the city needs an additional traffic engineer assistant -- that would qualify as a traffic safety expenditure and could be covered by just two additional cameras. Or we could just reallocate the ~$70,000 for the current traffic engineer assistant to come from the revenue from those two new cameras and reallocate that to ....

Politicians are nice folk, but I don't trust them.

SRTC Staff said...

I see what you're saying Steve. It starts with a camera here and there but as times get harder and money tighter, they start putting up cameras everywhere then get liberal with what is considered 'traffic safety' in order to fund more positions, etc.

Well, I can't say that there's nothing to base that thought process on because it's happened before in different places.

As for politicians, I'm hoping that this new batch of City Council members will help keep things on the level at the City. Since they have a say in matters such as red light cameras, we'll see what happens. Could be interesting. And at leasst three of the members (Richard Rush, Jon Snyder, and Amber Waldref) are very interested in transportation issues, so I get the idea they will be actively involved.

Not said...

The offenders are people who run red lights. They may not perceive the risk, but this behavior is antisocial. Running red lights is optional; people that do not want to pay the fine should not run red lights.

Lowering the fines would send the message that this antisocial behavior is acceptable.

- Ventura

SRTC Staff said...

Thanks Ventura- I view it like raising children; when they do something bad, you have to punish them so they don't do it again. Just saying 'no' generally doesn't work, you have to take something away from them that they value, put them in time out or spank them. Since it's no longer PC to spank and a 'time out' would fill up our jails even more (and is an excessive punishment), seems like you have to take enough money away from people who violate the red light law to make them feel it.

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SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

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