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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Unlike St. Petersburg, Tampa poised to renew its red light camera program



While the city of St. Petersburg is pulling the plug on its red light camera program, Tampa police want to renew theirs for two more years.

"We have no plans to get rid of the red light camera program," city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said recently when asked about St. Petersburg's decision. "They are changing behavior and keeping our roads safer."

The renewal is scheduled to go to the City Council on Thursday. If approved, the program would be authorized through early April 2016. In 2011, the council voted 4-3 to launch the program, with Charlie Miranda, Yvonne Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick voting no.

No doubt about it: drivers run red lights, Capin said Monday, recalling how a pickup truck swerved around her and accelerated when she slowed for a stoplight on S Dale Mabry Highway. But she voted against the program because the public perceives it as a "cash cow."

Capin and Miranda have said revenue from the cameras should go toward intersection and transportation improvements, not into the city's general fund.

"If we have dangerous intersections, then we need to spend the money that we generate" at those intersections, she said.

Tampa has 51 cameras trained on 21 intersections. Violations are issued to the owner of the vehicle photographed running the light. The fines are $158, of which $75 goes to the city.

Under its contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of Tempe, Ariz., the city pays the company $3,750 per month per camera. Cameras are removed from an intersection if they do not record an average of 2.5 infractions per day for three months.

In the year after the cameras were installed, crashes at Tampa's red light intersections dropped by 29 percent. (In contrast, in St. Petersburg the total number of crashes jumped 10 percent at the 10 intersections with cameras during the program's first year.)

Funds to operate the program come from the assessed fines. If revenues fail to cover operating costs, city officials say ATS will absorb the shortfall.

Generally, the number of citations issued and fines collected has fallen even as the city and ATS have added cameras to their system. During the city's 2013 fiscal year, the number  of cameras increased by more than 25 percent, from 33 to 42. Meanwhile, the number of citations issued dropped from a peak of 6,226 in April to 4,913 in September, the end of the fiscal year.

The city's net revenues for the year were nearly $1.64 million. Monthly revenues rose as more cameras were added, then fell later.

Tampa's move to renew its program comes as state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring a bill to repeal the state law authorizing the cameras. Statewide, 74 municipalities and five counties, mostly in South and Central Florida have red light cameras trained on a total of 922 intersections, according to a recent study from the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

[Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 5:58pm]


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