Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Red-light camera report convinces Oldsmar council of benefits

OLDSMAR — The Oldsmar City Council received an update Tuesday on the city's four red-light cameras, which have been catching people running red lights since August.

Also, on Tuesday, the council discussed a letter from Pinellas County Clerk of Circuit Court Ken Burke calling for cities to halt red-light ticketing until the "basic unfairness" of the program is fixed in Florida law. Council members decided that for now, the ticketing in Oldsmar will continue.

City officials say the red-light cameras promote safety. Public Works director Lisa Rhea shared data on the program's first six months, using information from the city, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona company that operates the city's cameras.

Records show:

• From August to January, Oldsmar issued 5,322 notices of violation (the first $157 ticket) and wrote 1,009 uniform traffic citations (the $264 charge incurred if a NOV isn't paid after 30 days) based on the cameras. Cameras are at northbound Forest Lakes Boulevard at Tampa Road; eastbound Tampa Road at St. Petersburg Drive; eastbound Curlew Road at Gull Aire Boulevard, and on westbound Tampa Road at State Road 580, which is where the vast majority of red-light runners were caught.

• In the six-month period, $595,930 in ticket revenue was collected. Nearly $314,000 of that went to the state and $104,000 to American Traffic Systems. Oldsmar received more than $178,000.

• Ten percent of ticket recipients were Oldsmar residents.

• For installing and maintaining Oldsmar's cameras, the city pays American Traffic Solutions $18,000 a month from ticket revenue.

• According to American Traffic Solutions, there has been a 62 percent drop in red-light running in Oldsmar since the cameras were installed.

The number of wrecks near two of the camera intersections has slightly increased, Rhea said. But because the data included any collision within 1,000 feet of the intersections — "People pulling out of the Walgreens, people pulling out of the Chili's . . ." — the city can't conclude the increase was caused by the red-light cameras.

Rhea said the number of tickets issued has decreased each month since the cameras began operating in August.

Most citations came from the red light at northwest-bound Tampa Road at SR 580 where some motorists said the length of the yellow light was too short. Oldsmar collected $147,484 from that location alone.

City Clerk Ann Stephan said Oldsmar officials asked the Florida Department of Transportation to review the light after hearing complaints. The timing of the yellow light was adjusted Nov. 7, but people who got tickets before that won't get refunds. Rhea said the three-second length of the yellow light fell within state law.

After Rhea's presentation, the council discussed Burke's letter asking the city to stop giving tickets for red-light running. Council members asked City Attorney Tom Trask if the city was allowed to implement a moratorium under its contract with American Traffic Systems.

Short answer: Not without terminating the contract.

In his letter, which also went to other cities, Burke mentioned eight flaws in the red-light camera program, including the way drivers receive citations, the way fines are increased if not paid on time and how tickets are issued to vehicle owners, not drivers.

At the suggestion of City Manager Bruce Haddock, the council decided to wait 60 days, give or take, to see what the Florida Legislature decides to do about the red-light camera law.

Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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