Friday, January 25, 2008

1 2 3 Red Light

Lubbock is giving us some interesting insights on how many cities view red light cameras. They recently received a report on the first 6 months of operation. The results are so bad, the committee charged with overseeing the program is recommending it be discontinued. It is apparent that the cameras are not really improving public safety. Accidents at intersections with cameras are up by 52% while accidents at other intersections are down by 2.7%. The number of injuries is down, but one commenter on the study said that could be due to a number of factors, including the number of passengers in each vehicle. Right out of the gate, their program seems to be failing, and deserves to be discontinued. The problem is that they will discontinue it for the wrong reasons.

It was obvious from the start that Lubbock did it for the money. They ignored re-engineering an intersection (which includes adjusting yellow light timing) as an option. When they found that only 4 of the 14 most dangerous intersections would have the needed 20 citations per day to be profitable, they looked at 12 additional intersections with no real history of accidents. This was put on hold after it was found out that 8 of the twelve intersections had yellow lights shorter than they should be, with one being shorter than legal minimums. Recent changes in Texas law derailed Lubbock's original plans.

With 7300 citations per intersection a year needed to be profitable, I have to wonder what the costs of installation and operation for such a system must be. At the State mandated maximum of $75 per citation, that means each intersection would generate a gross revenue of $547,500.00 per year. With 14 "profitable"intersections, that is a total revenue of $7.66 million per year. Lubbock anticipated a net revenue of $2 million per year, which meant that $5.66 million a year were needed to run the operation and pay the vendor $3.3 million in five years.

Update: After reading some of this material again, I find that the 20 citations/day may not be per intersection, but the total break even point, where the city isn't making money yet. With the cities goal of $2 million in "revenue" (i.e. profits), that is still around 36,000 citations per year, or roughly 7 per intersection at 14 intersections. That still amounts to a $2.5 million a year hidden tax. This is basically the old speed trap dressed up in high tech and automated.

I hope we can avoid Lubbock's approach to public safety and revenue. So far, our city council hasn't been swayed by the prospect of easy money. We need to keep vigilant to make sure it never happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment