Our View: Red-light cameras a bad deal for taxpayers
The SouthtownStar’s study of eye-in-the-sky red-light traffic camera performance in the Southland leads to several truths.
If the cameras’ only valid reason was to make traffic safer, maybe it works or maybe it doesn’t, but incremental improvements in safety have come at a hefty price.
Some communities raked in millions from tickets the commercially managed red lights have generated. But other municipalities learned there are sharks in the water and those sharks have better contract lawyers.
Under the agreements, red-light camera companies make their money from monthly service fees and per-ticket fees, and the municipalities haul in leftover proceeds depending on how many of red-light tickets are issued. The losers seem to have been extravagantly naïve. Vendors of the technology have figured out how to frontload amazingly fat “maintenance” fees for technology that seems to require towering amounts of maintenance.
A cash cow with a large appetite is no bargain.
For those public officials who insist that making a quick buck was never the point, we are not only dubious, we think it’s a your-nose-is-growing Pinocchio moment.
Palos Heights and Evergreen Park have made no money. Hazel Crest, Orland Park and South Holland have only received a fraction of expected red-light revenue. Palos Heights has earned no money since 2009. Redflex has made $209,730.
Since 2009, Hazel Crest has taken in $101,000 but sent $240,000 to the vendor, RedSpeed. South Holland has taken in $131,000 since 2007, but paid $809,000 to Redflex. Others have made spectacular dividends. Chicago Heights has made $2.3 million since 2009; Country Club Hills took in $3.8 million since 2009, and Worth has made more than $2.6 million since 2007. Oak Lawn made more than $3.2 million in six years.
Every deal is different. Every experience unique. Some communities can connect decreased accidents to the cameras, but making millions of extra dollars on tickets does not automatically translate into safety. Mostly, its just more cash to spend.
We are tempted to sympathize with the municipalities that lost money, but we can’t. They were suckers, and this is what happens to suckers.
We save our sympathy for citizens who foot the bill.