ST. PETERSBURG — One day before a pivotal City Council vote on the future of red-light cameras, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the city will scrap its controversial camera operation if fines no longer cover the cost of the program, which may be as soon as September.
Mayor Rick Kriseman informed City Council members of his decision in a memo Wednesday. With fewer drivers being ticketed, revenue from the program has been declining steadily. Officials estimate it will start costing the city money by September, at which point the city will cancel its contract with American Traffic Solutions, which supplies and operates the cameras.
The program was already in peril with at least four of the eight-member council indicating they planned on Thursday to vote to cancel the city’s contract with ATS. The council is also scheduled to vote on whether to refund hundreds of drivers who were ticketed at three intersections where the yellow-light interval was too short.
Kriseman, a strong supporter of the cameras, said the drop in citations clearly shows the cameras have succeeded in changing driver behavior and made the city safer.
Roughly 26,000 drivers were cited during the second full year of the program, down from 36,000 the previous year, according to a city report. Crashes from red-light running at intersections policed by cameras were down by 42 percent, the report states.
“Crashes have been reduced citywide,” Kriseman wrote in the memo. “These cameras have changed the culture on our roads.”
Critics of cameras, who claim their primary purpose is to generate money for cities and camera vendors, cite other factors for the decline in citations.
Between February and June of 2013, the city stopped issuing tickets to rental car drivers and in other cases where the car owner was not behind the wheel at the time of the offense. A 2013 state law also prohibited communities with cameras from ticketing drivers who failed to come to a complete stop before the intersection when making a right-on-red turn.
Yellow-light times at several intersections also were lengthened, and former officers who review video of possible citations have rejected more cases in recent months.
Cameras also are under fire from the Legislature, with Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filing a bill to pull the plug on cameras statewide.