ST. PETERSBURG — As in real estate, when it comes to the value of a red light camera, it's all about location.
Should cities install cameras at intersections prone to crashes caused by red light running?
Or place them at intersections with more cars running red lights — even if crashes are less frequent?
It depends on the whether the goal is improving public safety or making money.
More than a month after the City Council approved a contract with a private vendor to put in 20 red light cameras, the intersections have yet to be selected.
Hillsborough County, Tampa and Miami launched red light camera systems by choosing intersections strictly based on crash data.
"Our focus is to reduce the injuries to crashes," said Detective Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "If our goal was to generate funds, then we would put them at intersections with the highest frequency of red light running."
St. Petersburg already has a list of its most crash prone intersections. The city paid a private consultant $99,000 to create the list.
Officials say they are waiting on information from the vendor, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions, before making the final intersection selections.
ATS is projecting future red light running totals based on an algorithm that factors, among other things, crashes, traffic volume and citations.
Once ATS provides that data, then Mayor Bill Foster and his administrators will choose which intersections get cameras.
"The ultimate pick is ours," Foster said.
Still, the city hasn't identified a method for choosing where the cameras will go. Crashes will be considered, said Joe Kubicki, director of city transportation and parking. But so will the projections by ATS, he added.
"Right now, there is no criteria," Kubicki said.
St. Petersburg has afforded ATS a role it did not play in Miami, notable since St. Petersburg's contract was modeled after Miami's.
ATS' input should be considered a bonus, said company spokesman Charles Territo.
Tampa refused a similar offer from ATS, said John Bennett, assistant chief of operations for the Tampa Police Department. The city chose camera sites by relying on its own traffic data.
"I'm sure the spirit of (ATS') suggestions are valid, and we should respect that," Bennett said. "But we should drive the bus. They're the vendor, they're supposed to conform to our standards."
Intersections with a high number of red light runners don't necessarily have a high number of crashes.
"The goal is to stop crashes," Bennett said. "It's better to go with the intersection with the high number of crashes, although we might find some of those intersections will have fewer red light running."
And vice versa.
An ATS draft report of recommended intersections includes 34th Street and 13th Avenue N — which the city's consultant ranked as among the safest. It was the 197th most crash prone site, out of 228.
From the way the city's contract with ATS is written, the cameras are required to make money. If they "underperform" by producing fewer than an average of 2.11 tickets a day, they can be moved to intersections "mutually agreed on" by the city and ATS.
Kubicki estimates that each camera will average 10 tickets a day. Foster says the cameras will produce enough revenue to pay the $1.4 million annual cost of ATS managing and operating the system. In addition, Foster projects the cameras will produce a profit of $877,000 that can be used for things such as police and fire.
The city's $8.8 million contract with ATS marks the first time a private company will be allowed to operate a safety function that interacts so often with the public.
With ATS comes a staff of about 785 employees who manage 3,000 cameras nationwide. Only about 40 employees are in Florida, while about 100 "violation processors" and customer service representatives will work on the St. Petersburg contract from the company's Tempe, Ariz. processing center.
The company's "team of media and public relations experts" will promote the cameras once they are launched, working with city officials to make public pitches like Stop-on-Red week and end-of-the-year results, according to its bid for the Miami contract, which St. Petersburg adopted.
"ATS believes that evaluating program results and then communicating those results is a critical component to maintaining and growing public support of the programs," it stated. "ATS understands that thorough collision studies and program evaluations require significant staff resources that typically are not readily available or are too costly to maintain."
But ATS says it will do this "free of charge."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.