Red-Light Cameras Are/Were a Bad Idea

Smile! You’re no longer on red-light cameras.

From the moment Dallas city council members and staffers raised the specter of installing red-light cameras at intersections back in 2006, they’ve insisted—adamantly—that the cameras were about public safety, not the cha-ching of $75 civil infraction tickets that can’t be fought in court like regular traffic tickets.

The Council awarded Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services the contract to install and operate 62 cameras, which cost the city $3,800 a month per camera, even though another bidder came in almost $500,000 less. And despite even more assurances it was all about safety and not money, City Manager Mary Suhm was already spending projected red-light camera income in her 2007–2008 budget, even though the Council hadn’t yet approved the 40 additional cameras from which the revenue would come.

Flash forward. Though it’s unclear whether it’s a case of projections being too high or the cameras actually reducing red-light running (the data to support the latter isn’t conclusive; the lengthening of yellow-light timers is more likely the prime cause) the cameras are operating at a major deficit. That is, they’re not generating enough money to cover the cost of operation. Compounding the deficit is a state law passed in 2007 that makes cities fork over half of all red-light camera revenue to the state’s coffers.

So now about one-quarter of the cameras have been deactivated, and plans to expand the program with 40 more cameras are probably dead in the water. If the claims are true that the cameras have, in fact, reduced red-light running so dramatically, why shut the cameras down, and why not expand it?

After all, as they said, it’s not about the money.


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