Critics try to put brakes on red-light cameras
Texas cities, state legislators might ban devices amid backlash over cost, profits
DALLAS — Public support for the use of red-light cameras in Texas and across the country could be switching from green to yellow.
Three states — Maine, Mississippi and Montana — banned red-light cameras last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six others have considered similar proposals.
In Texas, voters forced College Station to take down its cameras last fall, and opponents in Houston say they have enough petition signatures to put the cameras to a vote this fall. Camera opponents in the Texas Legislature say they plan again to try to pass a measure phasing out the cameras statewide.
“There is a backlash, for sure,” state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, who co-sponsored the anti-camera push, told The Dallas Morning News. “City budgeters are counting on these fines as a revenue stream and simply using the argument of safety as cover.”
But cities using the camera systems, which capture images and sometimes video of drivers running red lights, insist they have reduced intersection accidents and saved lives.
“They’ve performed much better than I ever imagined,” said Elizabeth Ramirez, chief traffic engineer for Dallas.
She said Dallas has seen declines in red-light accidents at nearly every one of its 59 camera-equipped intersections since the first wave launched in January 2007.
With most Texas cities charging civil fines of $75 to $100 per violation, collections across the state have reached more than $103 million since a revised red-light camera law took effect in 2007. State figures show Houston has collected the largest amount: about $24 million through May.
A 2007 state law requires cities to set aside half of all profits to help fund regional trauma care centers. Most cities use their share for traffic safety and enforcement efforts.
An analysis of state figures and the vendor agreements of about a dozen Texas cities shows the contracts cities have with camera vendors are the biggest factor in whether a city makes money. Cities rent the cameras from vendors under negotiated terms.
Houston’s $24 million in collections since 2007 is more than triple the total fines collected by Dallas, according to figures from the state comptroller’s office. And in the past two years, Dallas’ program has cost more to run than Houston’s.
Paul Kubosh, a Houston traffic attorney who has led the Houston petition drive to repeal the cameras, accuses the city of “selling the streets to the highest bidder. It’s a voter revolt.”