Are Red Light Cameras Benefitting Rhode Islanders?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


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Records from the City of Providence show that the red light camera program has seen an increase of police-reported accidents at the 25 intersection locations where the cameras are situated, from 28 accidents in 2010 to 96 in 2012, among other information.  

The program was approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 2005, and was implemented in 2006.  A map of the intersections where the cameras are located can be found below.  

In reports for 2010, 2011, and 2012 obtained through the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, GoLocalProv found that the City of Providence has been collecting "paid citation revenue" from the program on average to the tune of $1 million year -- and paying out roughly $500,000 annually to the vendor management system.  

According to city documents, Affiliated Computer Services Government Services (ACS), is responsible for the project management, camera installation and monitoring, violation and payment processing, and customer support for the Automated Traffic Violation Monitoring System.  

ACS is part of the Xerox Corporation, who provides business process and IT outsourcing to a variety of industries and the public sector.  The City of Providence recently filed a $10 million lawsuit against its longtime actuary, Buck Consultants -- a subsidiary of Xerox -- for mistakes in miscalculating the savings projected from pension reform.  According to the lawsuit, the mistake is costing Providence $700,000 annually, which amortized over 28 years results in the $10 million loss.  

According to Providence City Council President Michael Solomon's office, the city has indicated it is "advertising [for] a new red light contract" this year.  

Following the Money

In 2006, the first year of the program, a pilot roll-out of 7 cameras was implemented, yielding just over $114,524 in paid citation revenue, with the City of Providence paying $36,202 in fees to the state -- and none shown to ACS in the first two years.  The City took in just over $76,322 in the first year.

When the program was expanded to the full 25 cameras in 2007, over $1.1 million was collected in revenue, and $381,871 went to state fees.  With no fees paid to ACS that year, the city netted $761,965, according to the document.  

Providence saw similar receipt and payment numbers in 2008, but paying ACS a reported flat $500,000 fee, Providence yielded paid red light violation revenue of $153,347 that year.  In 2009, however, the City reported collection of receipts of $923,665, and after paying the state fees of $372,789 and ACS $561,965, found itself $11,088 in the hole.

In 2010, the City was back in the black again, showing a net gain of $39,862, again after similar payouts to the State and ACS.  

However, reports from 2011 and 2012 only show that the City received paid ticket revenue of $902,530 and $1,013,171 and paid ACS on average, per years past, of $500,000 to maintain the system -- but no information was provided as to what was paid to the state in fees, if any.  

City Officials Cite Safety Concerns as Number One Priority -- While Accident Numbers Go Up

Elected officials who have weighed in on the city's use of red light cameras claim public safety as the top reason for utilizing the cameras.

Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte (Ward 10), who was first elected to the City Council in 1998, said that the Automated Traffic Violation Monitoring System "wasn't sold [to the city] as a revenue generating source, but rather to address safety concerns."  Aponte added that the Council wanted to make sure the penalty wasn't severe, but rather "treating it as a traffic violation, versus a moving violation, which would have had insurance ramifications."  

In a statement sent from City Council President Michael Solomon's office,  the Councilman said, “I see the red light camera program as a reasonable alternative to property tax revenue that also encourages drivers to abide by our traffic laws. I know we were hoping to bring ACS before the Ways and Means Committee a few weeks ago to explain the program and other services they provide to the city, but we decided to hold off because the City was advertising a new red light camera contract.”

Data provided by the City of Providence shows that in 2010, 28 accidents were reported by police at the camera locations, with 10 injuries resulting.  In 2011, the number of accidents was 81, with 7 injuries reported, and in 2012, 96 accidents were recorded, 12 injuries resulting.  

Red Light Camera Critics Speak Out

The Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has gone on the record multiple times decrying the red light camera program as, "expensive, ineffective, inefficient, and intrusive of civil liberties," according to one release issued in 2008.  

Speaking with GoLocalProv Monday, Hillary Davis with the RI ACLU said that "red light cameras are something we continue to be concerned about," and said the ACLU is working on legislation to stop their use.  Davis called into doubt the efficacy of the cameras, and decried the recourse process in fighting a ticket, saying, "The time, money, and ability needed to contest a ticket, for whatever reason, is onerous on Rhode Island citizens."  

According to information from the Governor's Highway Safety Association, 21 states, including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have enacted laws permitting some form of red light camera use -- and 9 states prohibit their use.  20 states have no state law regarding red light camera enforcement.

In a paper soon to be published in the Harvard Law Review by privacy law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, Neil Richards, JD, the notion of surveillance as a whole should come under close scrutiny.  

“It menaces our intellectual privacy and it gives the watcher a power advantage over the watched, which can be used for blackmail, persuasion, or discrimination,” he says.

In a phone call with GoLocalProv on Monday afternoon, Neil voiced more practical concerns about red light camera programs.  "We know that evidence regarding traffic safety [with red light cameras] is mixed," said Richards.  

Richards continues, "What we do know is that in instances where safety trends are going in the opposite direction of what was intended, we're often seeing the results of conditions placed on drivers who then make irrational decisions.  If they know there's a red light traffic camera at an intersection, and they see a yellow light, more often than not they'll speed up to beat it, or slam on the brakes, in an effort not to get caught.  And that then defeats the "public safety" purpose." 

The Mayor's Office did not respond to a request Monday for further information about the program.  

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