Posted on April 18, 2013
The City of Tallahassee (COT) began installing red light cameras in August of 2010. Like many local governments across Florida and the US, Tallahassee turned to the cameras in the name of safety. But from the beginning, there have been those who have argued that the program violates due process and is designed to turn nuisance violations into a revenue source for government coffers.
In the City of Tallahassee, a violation – if paid timely – costs $158. The state of Florida receives $83 of the $158 and the remainder is left for the city to cover the operational costs, which includes vendor payments and expense for TPD personnel. If any revenue is left after these expenses, the revenue is deposited into the general revenue fund.
The COT has operated the program for almost three years. The table below shows the violations and the fines generated at each intersection since the beginning of the program. The total number of violations through January, 2013 was 42,914. These violations generated over $6 million in revenue.
Despite the $6 million in revenue generated over the last three years, the revenue deposited into the City’s general fund is much less. Based on documents requested by Tallahassee Reports, the COT netted approximately $765,000 on the $6 million in fines. The bulk of the revenue generated by the fines was transferred out of bank accounts in Tallahassee to the State of Florida and to the red light camera vendor, ACS.
In addition to the complaints about due process, there has been significant debate about the impact of red light cameras on intersection crashes. Recently, the COT indicated that crashes at red light camera intersections had decreased 22% from the year before the camera program was implemented. Tallahassee Reports requested the data that supported this claim and created the table below.
|MAGNOLIA/ APAL PARK||3591||$510,640||33||29||4||114,894|
The table shows the intersection, the number of violations, and fees generated during the 12 month period that crashes decreased. In addition, Column BR shows the number of crashes that occurred 12 months before red light cameras where installed, Column AR shows the number of crashes that occurred 12 months after the red light cameras were installed.
The second to last column, titled AVOIDED, shows the number of crashes avoided due to red light cameras. This last column, titled $/AC, is the amount of revenue per avoided crash during the 12 month period.
The table shows a number of interesting facts.
- Over half of the avoided crashes came at one intersection, Capital Circle SE and Apalachee Park.
- The program had no impact on crashes at Killearn Center Blvd. and Capital Circle NE and minimal impact at Ocala and Tennessee and at Magnolia and Apalachee Parkway.
- The average cost per avoided crash was $62,371.
- The highest cost per avoided crash was $152,424 at the Ocala/Tennessee intersection where crashes decreased from 65 to 62.
- The lowest cost per avoided crash was $9,503 at the Capital Circle SE/Apalachee intersection.
- The total fines collected over this 12-month period was just over $3 million.
Tallahassee Reports inquired about why the Killearn Center intersection was chosen for a red light camera when it only had nine crashes before the cameras were installed. The COT staff indicated that the intersection was selected because TPD stated there was a high incidence of red light violations and that it is difficult for TPD to patrol that area.
The data analysis raises important policy questions. First, even if it is accepted that the red light camera program is alone responsible for the decline in crashes over the 12 month study period, is the cost of the program a net gain for the citizens of Tallahassee.
Second, given the results, is there a more cost-effective way to monitor intersections. For example, during the 12 month evaluation period, just over $3 million in fines were collected. At a cost of $100,000 each, this revenue would pay for 30 police officers.
And finally, how long will red light cameras stay up at intersections where the program has no effect, or minimal effect, on crashes.