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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Editorial: Tampa’s red-light camera program worth keeping

Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda thinks the surplus revenue from the city’s red-light camera program should be dedicated to improving dangerous intersections, rather than dumped into the city’s general fund for spending on any number of things. He also questions why the city seems to pay a greater share of the administrative costs for contested tickets.

Those are legitimate concerns that deserve discussion today when the Tampa City Council considers whether to renew a contract that will keep the cameras in Tampa for another two years.

But those concerns should not get in the way of renewing the contract. City Council members should come to a consensus on how to allocate the revenues, then vote to support the red-light program.

As Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says, “the program works.” Crashes dropped 33 percent last year at the 13 intersections where the cameras were first installed in 2011. Accomplishing a similar drop in crashes would take 11 officers stationed at the intersections around the clock, a considerable expense compared to the cost of monitoring cameras and issuing citations.

And the number of citations is also dropping, from about 69,000 in 2012 to roughly 60,000 last year, an indication the cameras are changing the behavior of drivers who know they will be caught running a red light where cameras are stationed.

By every measure, Tampa has managed its program well, certainly better than St. Petersburg, where disputes over tickets issued to motorists turning right on red, and questions about the duration of yellow lights, became a constant source of carping by some council members. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman devised an exit strategy earlier this month that will do away with the cameras because the city anticipates it will soon cost more to operate than will be generated in revenue.

“I don’t think that’s going to occur here,” Castor says. She thinks the number of red-light runners in Tampa will continue at a pace that will pay for the program. Even with last year’s drop in citations, the program generated $1.6 million in net revenue. And that revenue was generated with a fairly generous citations policy. The city tickets only those with irrefutable video evidence that they ran the red light, and it won’t ticket someone who glides through a right-on-red unless they drove through at more than 18 mph. About 80,000 motorists were captured on camera potentially committing a violation last year, but only 60,000 were ticketed.

In 2010, the Legislature gave cities and counties the authority to implement red-light camera programs in their jurisdictions, and Tampa has shown how the program can deter dangerous red-light runners.

Unfortunately, the administration of the program has been mixed across the state, and so have various safety studies, giving rise to critics who claim locally elected officials are motivated by the revenue, not safety.

A bill introduced this legislative session by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, would do away with the program.

Castor is certain that removing the cameras would result in far more irresponsible drivers speeding through intersections in an effort to beat the light, putting the lives of innocent motorists at risk.

The Tampa City Council should approve a new red-light contract, and the state Legislature should reject the effort to remove this decision from the hands of locally elected officials.

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