Houston's red light cameras officially turned off

November 15, 2010 3:21:48 PM PST
Houston's red light cameras are now officially off. The city of Houston pulled the plug on the cameras after confirming the vote for the November 2 election. Voters rejected the cameras by saying no to Proposition 3 on that ballot. But there is some legal fallout over the shutting down of those cameras.

Fearing it might get sued, the city of Houston filed a preemptive federal lawsuit against ATS, the company that put up the cameras three and a half years ago, over a disagreement of the interpretation of the contract and whether the city is liable for the money left on it.

Regardless, you may never again see the flashes from Houston's red light cameras.

"It's a good thing. It's about time, especially this one right here," said driver Rick Hall.

"In certain areas for sure, it's required; school zones, high volume areas," added another driver with whom we spoke.

Houstonians voted down the use of red light cameras in the election two weeks ago. But it left city leaders in a tough position. It now must figure out a way to make up for the yearly $7-10 million the camera tickets pumped into the Houston Police Department.

"The money that was generated by the red light camera went into the overtime traffic enforcement so it might have an impact on our ability to do traffic enforcement citywide," Mayor Annise Parker said.

The city also had to choose between shutting off the cameras immediately or fulfill its contract with the company that put the cameras up. That contract was supposed to extend into the year 2014, and there's still upwards of $677,000 left on it, a sum that may now trickle down to taxpayers.

"Ugh, doesn't sound good," said driver Marguirite Vaught.

While it may not sound good to you either, some people, like Joel Moore don't mind paying just to make the cameras a thing of the past.

"I think it's a cost well paid," he said. "I think it's worth it because it's the right thing to do, especially if it's not an accurate red light camera."

The city did have an out clause in their contract with ATS. It was a 120-day notice of termination. Mayor Parker acknowledged no one anticipated voter dismay with the cameras when this contract that was negotiated in 2006, but she says this ordeal will certainly help with future planning.

"City charter will be used in such a way and many of us feel it was a perversion of the city charter," she said. "But now we know and this is an issue that we may have to face in the future.

The city will be aggressively trying to collect any unpaid fines that people have received up to 10am, so if you have unpaid tickets, or one was processed before 10am this morning, you still have to pay.

On Monday, the company that has the contract with the city released the following statement:

    "ATS agrees with the city that red-light cameras are effective safety tools that change behaviors and saves lives. As disappointed as we are with the results we the respect the outcome of the election and have complied with the Mayor's request to turn the cameras off. We will now work with the city to find a fair and reasonable solution to resolving outstanding issues."

However, on Friday, it said it was considering many actions.

"There are a lot of issues that remain in this contract to go through and to figure out what we're gonna do," ATS Spokesman George Hittner said. "There are a whole lot of things; we can't take down a whole bunch of infrastructure overnight."

The end of the red light camera era in Houston is a major victory for the Kubosh brothers, traffic attorneys who've fought the installation of the cameras from the beginning.

It's never been about safety. Nobody believes that, the voters don't believe that," attorney Paul Kubosh said. "It's never been about safety and I think the votes showed that."


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