Early trends with red-light cameras are different for Tampa and St. Petersburg

Tampa's red-light cameras have been more productive than St. Petersburg's.
Published January 5 2012
Updated January 5 2012

The contrast is not quite as stark as red versus green, but red-light cameras are off to markedly different starts in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

In Tampa, the new intersection surveillance cameras produced 12,606 tickets in their first two months — nearly twice what Tampa officers used to write for red-light violations in a full year.

If that pace holds, Tampa could almost triple the $2 million in revenue that it has budgeted to receive from the cameras.

But police expect violations to tail off.

"We're only two months into this," said Tampa police Sgt. Carl Giguere, who supervises the agency's traffic unit. "From talking to other agencies and the company itself, you traditionally see a spike right up front. Then when people become aware of the enforcement going on at those intersections, they're a lot more careful."

The story is just the opposite in St. Petersburg.

There, the 6,338 tickets issued during the first six weeks of operation was about half of what was projected. Still, officials expect to exceed their revenue estimates.

The city is on pace to raise $1.3 million, or about 50 percent more than the $860,000 projected, said Joe Kubicki, city transportation and parking director.

"I guess it's real good news," he said. "I was very conservative in my estimates. I'm very happy with where we are."

Unlike the drop-off forecast by Tampa police, Kubicki said he expects ticket revenue to climb. The reason: City employees are now fully acquainted with the system and the cameras are operating glitch-free.

"We were testing the equipment early on," he said. "We're not doing that now."

Both cities hired American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., to install and operate the cameras. Each pays a flat monthly fee for each approach monitored.

St. Petersburg is monitoring 22 approaches at 10 intersections. Tampa has cameras watching 25 approaches at 14 intersections.

Each city launched its system around the first of November. In Tampa, the 14 officers assigned to traffic squad spend an hour or so a day reviewing potential violations. In St. Petersburg, the city pays retired officers to watch the video and make the calls.

In both, a red-light violation means a $158 ticket for the registered owner of the vehicle that ran the signal. Of that, $83 goes to the state; $75 stays with the city.

St. Petersburg Lt. Bill Korinek, who oversees the Police Department's traffic section, said there are several reasons citations there have lagged.

One is that the city's traffic signals are timed in a way to make traffic flow better and ease driver frustration, Korinek said.

Another reason is that the city is throwing out 64 percent of violations, most for right turns on red, Korinek said. The city will issue tickets for those making turns without stopping on red at a speed faster than 12 mph or in a way that endangers other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists.

In Tampa, right-on-red citations made up about 37 percent of the camera-initiated tickets issued during the first two months.

Tampa police also started with a 12-mph-or-faster standard for issuing a right-on-red ticket. After about three weeks, however, they raised that threshold to 15 mph. In deciding whether to issue a ticket, officers also watch for brake lights and whether the driver makes a reasonable attempt to slow down.

Along with snapping still photos, the cameras shoot 12 seconds of video for each suspected violation, record the number of seconds the light had been red and note the vehicle's speed when the driver ran the light.

Some cases are no-brainers, Giguere said, like a dump truck that made an illegal right turn at 24 mph.

Still, Tampa officers have decided not to issue tickets in nearly 39 percent of the suspected violations they've reviewed, including more than 5,300 potential right-on-red violations.

Even with the fast start, Tampa officials hesitate to guess whether revenues will exceed projections.

"What's too early to tell is what will the collection percentage end up being," said Tampa budget officer Dennis Rogero. "There's a whole lot of nuances that we simply don't have enough data to see."

The Tampa intersection with the most violations is 50th Street and Adamo Drive. There, 2,392 drivers were photographed running the signal in one of three different directions.

In St. Petersburg, the intersection with the most red-light violations is 22nd Avenue N and Fourth Street N, with 988 tickets.

So far, the cameras are popular with local drivers weary of Florida's Russian-roulette traffic customs. A poll last month by the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 found that 62 percent of the 508 Pinellas and Hillsborough residents surveyed favor the cameras. A third oppose them.

"I think it's a good idea if they catch people who are running the lights," said Pauline Norris, 62, who lives in Tampa, which has about 300 red-light crashes a year. "You see it all the time. Hopefully, they will deter people from doing it."

Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]