TAMPA — Red-light cameras have been criticized as little more than a way for cities to make money. In Tampa, at least, the cameras have produced less revenue this year than they did last year.
City officials told City Council members on Thursday that the city’s 42 red-light cameras generated $3.3 million in fines this fiscal year, down slightly from 2012.
More than half that revenue went to American Traffic Solutions Inc., the private contractor that operates the camera network. The city’s portion was $1.5 million, down about 20 percent from 2012, city finance director Sonya Little told council members.
The number of tickets issued to red light runners also has fallen, from nearly 69,700 in 2012 to 55,355 in the current budget year.
Councilman Harry Cohen said those numbers suggest the cameras are getting people to change their driving behavior at some of the city’s busiest intersections.
“In Tampa, they’ve been more of a success as a public safety tool than as a money maker,” Cohen said.
Despite Tampa’s experience, red-light cameras remain divisive years after they won approval from the state Legislature. Critics say communities are abusing them to raise revenue in a struggling economy, either by shortening yellow lights to catch more drivers or by dragging their feet on a state recommendation to lengthen yellow lights.
Statewide, the cameras produce about $110 million in fines each year. About $60 million goes to the state and local governments. Contractors get the rest.
The DOT gave cities using cameras until the end of this year to stretch out their yellow lights by up to four-tenths of a second. The DOT has issued a new manual formalizing the longer yellow lights, but began encouraging cities and counties to make the change as early as May.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, has filed a bill to ban the cameras.
Tampa officials have defended their handling of the lights. Transportation Director Jean Duncan told council members recently that the city sets the timing of its traffic lights in accordance with standards developed by the state Department of Transportation.
The number of red light cameras in Tampa has grown from 24 when the program started in October 2012 to 42 now. As the cameras have multiplied, so has the portion of the revenue going to the contractor, Little said.
Last year, when the city had fewer cameras, it got the majority of the fine revenue, Little said.
The city puts its portion into its general fund, the part of the budget that pays for day-to-day operations. About 63 percent of that fund covers public safety.