'Revenue Generating' Traffic Cameras Forcing Governments To Refund Millions Of Dollars

from the not-working-out-quite-the-way-they-thought-it-would dept

Technology saves time and labor, but is as ultimately fallible as the humans it displaces. Thanks to the efficiencies of technology, mistakes can now be made faster than ever. Municipalities which have turned over traffic enforcement to cameras probably hoped to generate funds much faster than it could with an un-augmented police force. Instead, they’re finding themselves issuing refunds, deactivating faulty cameras, fighting with contractors and investigating corruption. Not much of a payoff.

Two more stories have appeared (nearly simultaneously) showing the incredible number of tickets a set of cameras can rack up in a short period… and the amount of funds generated that no one will ever be able to claim.

The first comes from Nassau County, New York, where overenthusiastic speed cameras enforced school zone speed limits while school wasn’t even in session.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has dismissed $2.4 million in speed camera tickets issued over the past month, amid outrage from residents who received thousands of tickets from cameras at six school locations.

Mangano said cameras at five locations malfunctioned, spitting out tickets on days when school was not in session. Cameras at a sixth location — in Elmont — went operational prematurely.

Mangano went even further than this, declaring amnesty on all tickets issued this summer. Anyone who paid a ticket will be issued a refund and any unpaid tickets will be forgiven. Nassau County has contacted the contractor — the infamous American Traffic Solutions — presumably to ask it why its cameras can’t be calibrated to issue school zone tickets only when school zone speed limits are actually active. The county officials declined to say whether they’d be asking ATS to refund its share of the “lost” revenue, which is 38% of every fine collected.

Of the $2.4 million the county will be refunding, only about $800,000 of it is for tickets issued while school wasn’t in session. The other two-thirds is a good faith writeoff to help the county push through its installation of even more cameras.

In April, state lawmakers approved legislation allowing Nassau and Suffolk to install one speed camera in each of their school districts. Nassau will install cameras at 56 locations. Suffolk, which plans to roll out its program in mid-2015, will have 69 sites. Motorists that travel more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit receive an $80 ticket.

Not only will more static cameras be installed, but the county is also planning to send roving traffic enforcement cameras out on a tour of area schools.

Officials could not say how many districts will have mobile units, which can be moved to schools throughout the district at the county’s discretion. The mobile units consist of an unmarked van with two cameras and a radar machine.

Nassau residents don’t seem nearly as pleased with this expansion, especially not after having their mailboxes filled with bogus tickets. But I doubt the complaints of the citizens will be able to overcome the dollar signs in their representatives’ eyes.

The speed camera program is expected to generate $25 million or more annually for [Nassau County]… Suffolk expects to generate $6.8 million from the 46 cameras in Western Suffolk, where the county provides police service, said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

Those are some pretty large numbers, provided the county isn’t periodically forced to issue a ton of refunds. Given American Traffic Solutions’ track record, it would behoove these county officials to cease counting their revenue before it’s extracted by traffic robocops.

Meanwhile, over in New Jersey, malfunctioning systems installed and maintained by — yes, you guessed it — American Traffic Solutions have forced the state government to ask courts to throw out 17,000 tickets because drivers were never informed of their alleged infractions. (h/t to Techdirt reader Vidiot)

The state lawmaker who today brought the issue to the public’s attention — Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon —said it’s is just the latest example of why New Jersey’s red light camera should not be renewed when it reaches its December expiration date.

“This wasn’t 5 or 10 or even a couple of hundred instances – this total breakdown affected almost 17,000 motorists,” O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said in a statement. “These companies incessantly tout the supposed accuracy and consistency of their systems – when the only thing consistent about the camera company representatives is their blatant misrepresentation of what the equipment does and how accurately it does it.”

Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for the state Judiciary, said that the issue was brought to its attention by the company — American Traffic Solutions (ATS) — on Aug. 10. Under New Jersey law, Comfort said, drivers must receive notices of the infractions within 90 days.

Once again, the screwup is all ATS. Apparently, a “server configuration change” resulted in ATS sending out no violation notices from May 28 to June 30, turning 17,000 potential moneymakers into 17,000 potential dismissals, thanks to exceeding the 90-day notification window.

An ATS spokesman spun this as a “technical issue” that only “impacted” a small percentage of issued tickets. (Oh, and the automated revenue generator is apparently called a “red-light safety camera” in ATS jargon.) Two things: if 17,000 tickets is only a small percentage of tickets issued, then ATS is definitely firing off way too many tickets. Thing, the second: it’s only ATS having problems with its servers.

Automated Traffic Solutions operates traffic cameras at about half of New Jersey’s 76 intersections that are equipped with them. The other company, Redflex, did not have the same problem.

Of course, Redflex bribes local politicians to secure contracts, so it’s not as if this company doesn’t have its own issues — ones that also negatively affect the citizens being policed by unreliable camera systems.

As noted above, Assemblyman Scanlon indicated he’d rather not renew the state’s contract with ATS. Given Redflex’s moral turpitude, it might be prudent not to renew its contract either. But this would leave the state with very few options for low-cost revenue generation — and once localities become hooked on a source of income, there’s very little chance they’ll give it up readily, no matter how corrupt/incompetent/terrible it is.

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Companies: american traffic solutions, ats, redflex

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Comments on “'Revenue Generating' Traffic Cameras Forcing Governments To Refund Millions Of Dollars”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I was discussing the issue the other day with my friends and one of them gave a pretty neat solution: drive strictly within speed limits for some time. This would deprive law enforcement from such money and these cameras would be disabled asap.

This has a few minor issues such as the problem with faulty or poorly calibrated equipment. There are also the speed “traps”, cameras that are placed in a way that lures drivers into going past the speed limits (ie, different speed limit signs very close to each other) or very short yellow lights in intersections. Some people here started putting warning signs about such “traps” and during some time the Govt was mandated by law (and some judicial prod) to actually warn drivers in advance that in the next few hundred meters there would be a camera and banned mobile radars (this was mandated exactly because of the abuses).

Anonymous Coward says:

Many years ago i had a similar situation with a police officer, i was going 35 past the school in front of my house, and he pulls me over, i pulled into my drive way to stop, which he was none too happy about, even though it was the closest place to safely stop.

he then tells me i was going 35 in a 25 MPH school zone, and since i’m 17, i’ll loose my licence, I point out that the speed limit is 35 because it’s not a school day, he says my kids are still in school, i say:

“then you don’t live in Washington township, because i go to school, and schools out. But you don’t have to believe me officer, if you look on the sign infront of the school, it lists the last date as May, 22, and it’s the 23rd”

He was pissed. kept me there for half an hour inspecting my car looking for anything he could write me up on. Never did find anything.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“kept me there for half an hour inspecting my car looking for anything he could write me up on. Never did find anything.”

Interesting. I have some friends who became cops, and they told me that part of their training was that they should be able to find three citable offenses in literally any car they come across. To accomplish this requires knowing all kinds of arcane laws that don’t appear in the driver’s manual and nobody really knows exist (such as: there’s a law requiring cars to have a trash receptacle in the front half of the vehicle.)

Maybe that cop just needed a refresher course.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Re: Re:

“part of their training was that they should be able to find three citable offenses in literally any car they come across.”
So basically cops, after they stop you for whatever reason they like and search your car, even if you’re not doing anything wrong they can still getcha?
And police wonder why people don’t like them…

Anonymous Coward says:

This is just an excuse they use to monitor the population, but hey why not use the taxpayers money to install cameras to charge the taxpayers money again and they wonder why the average citizen doesn’t trust authority. that being said , I’d check out who takes how much money from these companies that develop and install these cattle cams.

TruthHurts says:

Cities are scamming yellows for cash, killing drivers

Don’t forget about the cities that modify their stop lights to make short yellows to boost profits.

If you catch a yellow light that lasts less than the national standards, report the city to the state.
25 MPH — 3.0 Seconds
30 MPH — 3.5 Seconds
35 MPH — 4.0 Seconds
40 MPH — 4.5 Seconds
45 MPH — 5.0 Seconds
50 MPH — 5.5 Seconds
55 MPH — 6.0 Seconds


While there are no laws mandating these timings, these are the values recommended for traffic safety. Truncating them for increased revenue streams WILL lead to more accidents and possible fatalities.

TruthHurts says:

Re: Re: Cities are scamming yellows for cash, killing drivers

Apologies, I should have stated no national laws.
Thus leaving it to the states to make the laws or ignore the issue.

All traffic cams in my area were forcibly removed after the 3rd injury accident because the yellow lights were truncated (to half the safe value). Citizens are preparing to file a a criminal negligence suit against the city for intentionally making the intersections unsafe.

Beckola (profile) says:

Re: Cities are scamming yellows for cash, killing drivers

In Chicago our 35MPH are 3.0 (many have been showing up as 2.9)

This really comes into play when traffic is light and you’re going 35-37 and approaching a light. About 200 yards out you need to start slowing just in case the yellow pops up (many don’t have the countdown timers). If yellow comes you hit brakes pretty hard to come to almost pit stop like stop as 3 sec comes up really quick.

TruthHurts says:

Re: The solution is obvious

Sorry, but red light cams actually make the intersections more dangerous – especially when they truncate the yellow light to dangerously low timings. People slam on brakes to stop before yellow turns red in under 1.21 seconds, causing chain reaction crashes.

Please read a bit before posting obvious kool-aid findings.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: The solution is obvious

That. But while he misses the facts he does have a point. Instead of fines maybe people should attend mandated educational courses and simply lose the right to drive for sequentially longer times if recurring violations occur?

And a minimum yellow timing must be mandated by federal efforts to prevent any entrapment.

Who Cares (profile) says:

Re: Re: The solution is obvious

Actually you are the one doing the cool aid by reflexively dismissing what I wrote by without bothering what I’d wrote. I specifically stated that this was excluding [too] short yellow periods, which is what you attacked me on.

So next time actually bother to read before putting up post reflexively dismissing anything that doesn’t fit your blinders up view of the world.

TruthHurts says:

Re: Re: Re: The solution is obvious

Guess what, they don’t even “HAVE” to shorten the yellows for this to be a factor.

It just doubles or triples the accident rates when they do.

In our area, the number of accidents rose by 67% after the lights were installed, and that was with standard yellow light timings.

An area that shortened the yellow light had an increase of over 130% for 3 days before the city received complaints from 2 lawyers and a judge threatening criminal negligence charges as well as major monetary lawsuits to be filed on behalf of everyone in 3 counties that drove over the roads in question.

So yeah, I did see the note about “external” factors, but they were irrelevant to my comment.

Thanks for trying, and for the record, it’s spelled “Kool-Aid” in the United States, which is also relevant to this discussion.

Have a grumpy day

Who Cares (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The solution is obvious

Ah yes the anecdote as evidence fallacy.
Was the intersection considered dangerous before the cameras were installed (another of the points I raised)? Or was it put up as a revenue generator? How long was the original yellow light period, was it short already? Are the cameras clearly announced to drivers?

So yes you reacted as a bull to a red rag on the fact that I defended the placement of the cameras in some situations and didn’t bother to read what I wrote. Might want to follow the studies in the factsheet link I posted to another comment.

DSchneider (profile) says:

No Reason for Percentage of the Tickets

I’ve said this before, but there is absolutely no reason any of these cities should be paying a portion of their ticket revenue to the companies behind these cameras. You can pay them for the camera system, you can pay them to install the camera system, you can pay them to maintain the camera system. Those area all standard charges for hardware/software systems. To actually pay for how much it is uses is purely a money grab by the camera companies.
My company like many has a security system with back-end software to utilize it. We don’t get charge per video or picture taken by those cameras. We paid them for the installation and purchase of the cameras and software and then a yearly maintenance fee for support and software updates.
Not that I think camera’s are a great thing to begin with, but if more cities pushed back on this requirement, maybe we would see more sanity with how these things are being used since half the revenue won’t be going back the manufacturer.

Distopia says:

Re: No Reason for Percentage of the Tickets

BUT BUT BUTTTTT – without the “revenue” stream from the illegally generated tickets, they would have to charge 300 to 400% more up front and for the maintenance to get an equal amount of “raping and pillaging” the tax-payer’s dollars.

This way, it’s paid out of the pockets of the people who are given tickets for violations they didn’t commit.

Also, who does the company send to court when you ask to face your accuser? I’d want the camera itself, along with the source code for the software used, the login / passwords of the people who “Certify” the tickets, as well as the the raw footage and edited footage to compare ESS between the two, if they could not provide that then I’d ask the judge for summary dismissal as it would be obvious that they forged the evidence and can’t guarantee the software to be bug free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Intentional mistakes for revenue

routinely takes pics of licenses of folks who perform a LEGAL right on red after stop.

i might know a little bit about that.  i saw a flash one time when i was turning left on a turn arrow.  the police station was nearby so i went in, hot as a pistol, and the lady told me that cameras take a series of pics whether you do it right or not.  she said a retired cop reviews the pics and the sequence would show that i made a legal turn.  as she said, i never heard from them.

i despise those things and feel we’ve gone way into the deep end here, but their taking pics of legal moves is probably more about snooping than revenue generation.

A Non-Mouse says:

It's a Safety Program, right?

“The speed camera program is expected to generate $25 million or more annually for [Nassau County]… Suffolk expects to generate $6.8 million from the 46 cameras in Western Suffolk”

Odd how they never seem to mention how many lives will be saved, or how many accidents will be prevented. Makes it easy to see what their true motivation is, I guess.

Michael (profile) says:

The speed camera program is expected to generate $25 million or more annually for [Nassau County]… Suffolk expects to generate $6.8 million from the 46 cameras in Western Suffolk, where the county provides police service, said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter

For all of you math-challenged politicians out there, if this is generating $31.8m, it is costing the people of those counties $83.3m in fines.

My guess is people would be happy to lose the cameras and just increase their taxes enough to cover the $31.8m – it will be cheaper.

Anonymous Coward says:

The speed camera program is expected to generate $25 million

They spend these proceeds on public education to lower speeding, right?

So over time these “safety cameras” see a reduction in tickets generated and revenue earned, right?

I’d be ok with that, collect money from those who break laws so we can educate them and reduce the number of broken laws thus making our streets safer!

But when safety is NOT the ONLY goal then these cameras have no business being deployed.

TruthHurts says:

Re: The speed camera program is expected to generate $25 million

No one can claim that safety is a factor when installing the cameras as accident and death rates always go up where the cameras are installed, due to people trying to get through before the yellow turns red, then deciding they can’t and slamming on the breaks to avoid a ticket, then get rear-ended by the semi or school bus behind them.
This is especially true in regions where the city traffic management offices boost the revenue streams by playing with the yellow light timings during the heaviest traffic flows.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Officials could not say how many districts will have mobile units, which can be moved to schools throughout the district at the county’s discretion. The mobile units consist of an unmarked van with two cameras and a radar machine.”

Dear Citizens,

As you know, the StasiXXXXXDepartment of Homeland Security urges you to report suspicious people and items. Surely an unmarked van with multiple cameras parked in a school zone qualifies: could be pedophiles, could be rapists, could be ZOMG terrorists! So be sure to report this van every single time you see it. Make sure that your friends and neighbors do the same: after all, we can’t be too careful.

HenryHighway (profile) says:

If you're going to San Francisco (or elsewhere in CA)...

Here is essential info about California’s very difference red light camera tickets. First, the tickets cost $500.00. (Five hundred dollars.)

Now that I’ve got your attention…

We’ve had cameras here for almost two decades. At one time we had more than 100 cities with red light cameras. Now it’s down to 43 cities, with recent closures being the large systems operated by Redflex in the Cities of Hayward, Oakland, Santa Ana, Inglewood, and Riverside – 82 cameras in those five cities. In many of those cities the police chiefs and/or mayors made on-the-record statements about the (lack of) efficacy of the cameras. If anyone would like to read those statements, do a search on red light camera candor and then search that Industry PR page for the word candor. But if you’re too busy to go there and read what they said, I will summarize: The cameras made no measurable difference in the number of accidents or injuries.

For those readers who are in California or travel here, here is some semi-secret info about how to deal with our very special flavor of red light cameras. Here’s what to do – first thing – if you get one of our tickets.

1. Check to see if it is a Snitch Ticket, the fake/phishing tickets California cops send out to bluff car owners into IDing the actual driver. Snitch Tickets say, at the top, Courtesy Notice-This is not a ticket, and you can ignore them! Skeptical? Search: Snitch Ticket. (Snitch Tickets are one of those “only in California” things.)

2. REAL camera tickets from ANY city (or sheriff) in LA County can be ignored, as the LA courts do not report ignored camera tickets to the DMV. Search: red light camera no consequence.

Austin (profile) says:

And...what about records?

Given that TD had a story a while ago about how next-to-impossible it is to have your record expunged when the cops arrest you, then decide not to prosecute, the burning question in my mind is what happens to peoples’ records?

I don’t know how it works in New Jersey (apparently literally everything is different there, like Texas but more so) but here in Alabama, while parking tickets are handled by the local city and not part of your state Department of Public Safety record, all speeding tickets, even from local cops, DO go on your statewide public record (which anyone can pull online for a measly $8, or in Montgomery in person for probably more than $8 worth in gas to get there, heh.)

So is everyone’s record being expunged for free? If not, I’d rather pay the $80 ticket and sink a weekend into one of those diversion programs. Especially so that a future employer doesn’t think I was speeding 30MPH over the limit with a bunch of poor innocent children desperately trying to get out of my way.

Just saying. This story could get MUCH worse.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: If too many people run red lights

Then there’s a problem with using stoplights as a traffic regulation device.

When too many people do an illegal thing, it means somethings wrong with the system, compelling people to do the illegal thing.

Either it needs to be decriminalized or there needs to be a legal alternative that people will want to choose.

Wait! This sounds like copyright infringement discussions we’ve had countless times!

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