Does return of red light cameras mean more revenue for city?

July 8, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
Houston's red light cameras are back on and citations are going out again, but does that mean more revenue for the city?

The city has been keeping tabs on the red light cameras. While the number of violations varies from year to year, the number of people not paying them has gone up.

The city says it will move on with its appeals process after a judge ruled last fall's vote by the people to turn the cameras off was illegal.

There are city council members on both sides of the issue.

"I've been strongly opposed to the red light camera program for a long time," Councilmember Mike Sullivan said.

"If you don't run the red light, there is really nothing to be worried about," Councilmember Sue Lovell said. "I think continuing with the appeals until we've exhausted all efforts on an appeal is really standing up for the voters."

The future of the program is not clear, but we got a picture of programs past flipping through the most recent report from the Houston Police Department as of May 31.

Since the program began, more than 900,000 people have received a ticket. There were more than 230,000 in 2008, and then it dropped slightly in 2009. There were 250,000 in 2010.

Around 90,000 tickets were issued each period in the first year of the program and this last fiscal year which includes the time the cameras were off.

Some drivers may ignore the red light, but some are ignoring the tickets, too.

The number of violators choosing not to pay has increased. The first two years of the program, 26 percent didn't pay. That number was up to 28 percent in 2009, then 32 percent in 2010. According to reports, 38 percent of drivers who have received a ticket to date haven't paid by the 2011 fiscal year.

City charter says they can't overturn an ordinance that council members voted on beyond 30 days after it was passed. The red light camera vote in November took place long after that.

Councilman Mike Sullivan doesn't believe that means the voters' voice shouldn't be heard.

"This one affects the pocketbook of the average citizen. These intersections are monitored throughout the city -- high income, low income, black, white, brown, communities all over. It affects everyone," Sullivan said. "When people go to the polls and cast a vote, that has to be honored."

The program has grossed more than $52 million. After expenses, it's about $35 million. Officials say $19 million has stayed here in Houston with almost $16 million going to the state of Texas.

The judge has set a hearing date for July 19 for both sides to bring additional issues. It could bring up the problem that the city may have to pay ATS -- the owner of the cameras -- for damages during the period of time the red light cameras were turned off.

After the hearing on July 19 is wrapped up, the city would then be eligible for the standard appeals process, like to the appellate courts.


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