LA to shut down money-losing red-light cameras

July 27, 2011 - 5:13 PM
Red Light Cameras

FILE In this Sept. 29,2010 file photo a red light camera setup is shown in Los Angeles. The full City Council is expected to vote on whether to continue the red-light camera enforcement program. (AP Photo/Nick Ut,File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It's lights out for red-light cameras.

The nation's second-largest city decided Wednesday to shut down its traffic enforcement cameras because the program is losing $1.5 million a year. There also were questions about whether the tactic actually saves lives.

With a 13-0 vote, the City Council voted to stop issuing photo traffic enforcement tickets as of midnight Sunday, when a contract with an Arizona-based contractor expires.

"The program as we know it no longer exists in the city as of July 31," Councilman Dennis Zine said.

City Hall will review procedures with the vendor to remove cameras at 32 intersections and deal with existing tickets.

However, officials won't learn until later if the phase-out will cost the city more money, or if the vendor, American Traffic Solutions, must perform the work for free.

Some cameras operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will remain along bus and rail routes. There also are more than 30 other camera enforcement programs operating in other cities and venues within Los Angeles County.

The City Council's decision was expected after the Police Commission voted to drop the program, which had ticketed more than 180,000 drivers since 2004.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl said the contract was costing Los Angeles $1.5 million a year because many people ignored the citations.

There currently are about 65,000 outstanding unpaid tickets, Councilman Mitchell Englander said.

Council members blamed the losses on the refusal of the Los Angeles County Superior Court to force drivers to pay up.

"The courts do not process, the courts do not hold people responsible," Zine said.

Drivers who sign moving-violation citations issued on the scene by police officers promise to deal with the ticket, but the photo tickets were mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle caught on camera. Those owners never made such a promise and might not have been behind the wheel when the photo was taken.

The Superior Court system does not notify the state Department of Motor Vehicles of unpaid camera tickets unless the motorist has been ordered in court to pay.

Police told council members Wednesday that unpaid tickets go to a county collections department that issues warnings, but there are few consequences for failing to pay. It has no effect on a motorist's credit, driving record or insurance.

However, some council members noted the unpaid ticket remains in court records and could be available to would-be employers conducting background checks.

Critics of red-light enforcement argued that its effectiveness in reducing accidents was open to debate, and that the high cost of the citations — which could run hundreds of dollars — was punitive for poor residents struggling to make ends meet in a sagging economy.

"The point of this has never been to punish people for no reason at all, it's been to make our streets safer and we have mixed data, at best, about whether this does," Councilman Gil Garcetti argued. "It is time for us to shut it down, and shut it down now."

An audit by City Controller Wendy Greuel last year concluded the program has not "conclusively shown to have increased public safety."

Some studies have concluded that red-light cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions as drivers slam on the brakes at intersections or scoot through at high speed to avoid a ticket.

Council members asked the city's transportation department to look into other ways of reducing traffic violations, including extending the length of yellow lights at the intersections.