Complete Failure: Chicago's Speed Camera Traps Fail To Bring In The Revenue Mayor Emanuel Counted Upon

from the fast-cash dept

Speed cameras, just like their red-light camera brethren, have been pretty well established as nothing more than revenue machines for local municipalities. Their application results in a myriad of issues, such as the fact that the cameras don’t work, not to mention that the cameras don’t work, oh, and the cameras don’t work and the companies behind them might try to fudge the evidence if you dispute a ticket. The excuse for these cameras that don’t work has always been that they are designed to make the roads safer under the theory that if motorists know that the cameras exist, they will be less likely to speed. That supposed justification is belied by two facts. The first is that some people who have tried to warn motorists that the cameras exist have been dragged to court for doing so, which sort of defeats the entire supposed purpose of the cameras. The second fact that disproves the justification is that Chicago just can’t help going all Chicago on itself.

Local reporters have the glorious story of the latest Chicago budget crisis that has Mayor Emanuel scrambling for only one reason: Chicago motorists are way better behaved than he’d planned for in his previous budget.

You heard that right: Good behavior is bad for the budget. Real bad, reports CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. CBS 2 has learned the speed cameras caught far fewer speeders than expected. According to the Mayor’s 2015 Budget Overview, there have been “lower than expected violation rates.”

How much lower? Fifty million dollars lower. Emanuel’s administration had figured on $90 million in fines to help balance this year’s budget, but they can only count on $40 million. That’s a $50 million shortfall, putting pressure on the next spending plan.

Think about the logic here for a moment: Rahm Emanuel wrote a spending budget for the third largest city in the country that relied on a certain revenue number from speed cameras. Where’s the incentive for better behavior on the road in that? There is none. The fact is that Chicago drivers are far better behaved than the city expected. That’s an outcome you’d think the city would be celebrating. Instead, it’s considered a negative, because the speed cameras were never about safety, they were only a method to fill the city’s coffers to the tune of milliions of dollars. That isn’t so much public policy as it is an extortion racket that happens to have failed.

“It was a combination of the camera company’s salesmanship and the city’s greed,” says camera critic Barnet Fagel.

You may not want to forgive the camera company their sales tactics, but how much do you really want to fault them? They’re a large company beholden to nothing beyond the profit motive. They can’t be expected to have the best interests of a city’s population at heart. The Chicago city government on the other hand? Most citizens likely didn’t elect Mayor Emanuel out of a sense of sadomasochism or the theory that we all just have a bit too much money in our pockets. Stories like these are among the reasons that Emanuel isn’t considered invulnerable in the upcoming mayoral election.

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Comments on “Complete Failure: Chicago's Speed Camera Traps Fail To Bring In The Revenue Mayor Emanuel Counted Upon”

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62 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

That’s actually what I think. Strictly follow the speed limits and the cameras will start costing more than the revenue they bring in and will be scrapped asap. Sure there are the traps but those can be questioned in the legal system.

Easier said than done. I got a ticket out of pure distraction these days. I was driving in a speed that is comfortable to me (namely a pretty safe speed that’s the standard for most areas here) and forgot about a speed camera in a place I know that enforces a speed 20km/h below the usual. So, yeah…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I wonder how things would go if there was a system which read the speed signs and warned the motorist if he was above that speed (I recall reading somewhere that speed sign readers already exist).

And, of course, in a not-so-distant future there will be the matter of self-driving cars (which wouldn’t surprise me if they followed the speed limits precisely, to the annoyance of the motorists).

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Thing is, this speed camera is located right after a 90° turn in a sharp descent (you gain speed very quickly if you don’t hit your brakes even without accelerating). I wonder if commercial GPS would respond that fast. Phones are annoyingly slow in responding to turns and lane changes (for John, thanks for the NavFree tip but it probably wouldn’t have helped me).

Bunny69 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s some cool tech. I wonder how reliable it is though? I assume it works much like license plate readers do and these aren’t always accurate. OCR in general still has a ways to go IMHO.

My idea is an easily re-programmable chip or strip embedded into all paved lanes (think RFID tags) which the car would read as it passed over them and automatically limit your maximum speed for you, or just warn the driver depending on your preferences.

How’s that for safety? Especially in places where it really matters, like school zones. Could effectively kill most of the income a municipality gets from speeding tickets though, so it’ll never happen. Revenue before safety and all that. /s

Bunny69 says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Interesting. I also realized later than a simple update to GPS software/firmware might be able to back it up and provide the means for older vehicles to have something akin to it. In spite of the fact I’m pretty careful not to speed, an audible warning for those rare occasions when I do so by accident would be nice.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

This can also be done without needing to read signs at all. Most, if not all, databases of street maps (including OpenStreetMap) include the speed limits for the streets already, and many navigation systems (including at least one for Android) provide the exact kind of speed warning your asking for regardless of the age of your car (or if you’re even in one).

That One Guy (profile) says:

How much lower? Fifty million dollars lower. Emanuel’s administration had figured on $90 million in fines to help balance this year’s budget, but they can only count on $40 million. That’s a $50 million shortfall, putting pressure on the next spending plan.

That they were factoring in the revenue from the system into the budget pretty thoroughly kills off the idea that the purpose of the red-light cameras is to decrease speeding.

If that were true, and people really did speed less as a result of the system, they’d have intentionally shot themselves in the foot regarding the budget, as they’d find themselves, like what’s happening now, with a shortfall in funds compared to what they had planned.

If the purpose of such systems are meant to be a safety, rather than a profit one, then any funds gathered from them would be a bonus, and one that the local governments would be trying to decrease, rather than see grow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Irresponsability

Rahm Emanuel is completely Irresponsible because he
“wrote a spending budget for the third largest city in the country that relied on a certain revenue number from speed cameras.”

What a Prince, Chicago is a shooting gallery and he’s acting like a douche.

Posted: 10/20/2014 11:36 AM EDT
Chicago Gun Violence: 3 Killed, 19 Wounded This Past Weekend – An 18-year-old woman was fatally shot Sunday.
http://www.bet.com/news/national/2014/10/20/chicago-gun-violence-3-killed-19-wounded-this-past-weekend.html

Anonymous Coward says:

Including money from fines and tickets in the budget is a bad idea. It is a conflict of interest and it encourages bad behavior.

If it were possible to obey every law … and everyone started doing so, how long before cities and local municipalities would go bankrupt? They would have to pass new taxation or new laws with higher fines, all of which are counter productive.

Benjamin Wade (profile) says:

Simple solution. Lower then speed limits and shorten the yellow light period

Simple solution. Lower then speed limits, and shorten the length of the yellow light (before it turns red). Bingo! More money. I suggest going with a 10 mph speed limit (for safety you know.) and a 500 millisecond yellow (to help improve our driver’s reflexes).

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Simple solution. Lower then speed limits and shorten the yellow light period

Lowering the speed limit doesn’t do the trick. As long as we’re only BARELY pretending that this isn’t simply about revenue, why not go all the way?

The Dark Helmet City Beautification and Enrichment Proposal: variable speed limits! That’s right, Mr. Mayor, we create a jobs bill based strictly off of replacing those old metal speed limit signs in the entire city with digital display speed limit signs. Then, we incorporate ASL into the mix: Adjustable Speed Limit.

Speed limits will change throughout the day in random intervals under the bullshit excuse that we’re watching traffic patterns and making shit safer for puppies or whatever. What it ends up meaning is that you have no idea what the speed limit on your own block is day to day, or even minute to minute.

THINK OF THE MOTHERFUCKING REVENUE, YOU MANGLED-HANDED MONSTER!!!!

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Simple solution. Lower then speed limits and shorten the yellow light period

You get twinkies every time you manage to get past a camera without getting a ticket! Also, power-ups in boxes with question marks: the octopus prevents other drivers from seeing the speed limit and the camera from reading your plate, the speed shell makes the opponents speed up right before the camera and the invulnerability star makes you… invulnerable!

Dark Helmet Kart ftw!

Almost Anonymous says:

Re: Re: Simple solution. Lower then speed limits and shorten the yellow light period

The Dark Helmet City Beautification and Enrichment Proposal: variable speed limits!

Dude, that will never get off the ground. The acronym is just unworkable: DHCBEP has no semblance to a single smarmy word that encompasses the concept. Back to the drawing board with you.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Simple solution. Lower then speed limits and shorten the yellow light period

“The Dark Helmet City Beautification and Enrichment Proposal: variable speed limits! That’s right, Mr. Mayor, we create a jobs bill based strictly off of replacing those old metal speed limit signs in the entire city with digital display speed limit signs.”

You joke, but in one of the cities I live in, they’re talking about doing precisely this on major thoroughfares. They’ve already replaced a bunch of the speed limit signs with digital displays.

GMacGuffin (profile) says:

Re: Simple solution. Lower then speed limits and shorten the yellow light period

“…shorten the length of the yellow light (before it turns red)”

A personal injury attorney who takes an intersection collision case will often check the timing of the lights to see if there is a case against the City for negligently timed lights (for the deep pockets). 500ms yellows would be a good one. And the $ thus begins flowing the wrong direction (not to mention the needlessly dead people).

… oh, did I read this comment too literally?

ASTR0B0I says:

What people sometimes forget.....

….is that the take from the cameras is shared. This means that for every dollar extracted from the citizens 40 to 60 cents leaves the state and never comes back. The people refuse to increase taxes, where ALL the money stays in the area. Instead they are forced to pay twice the amount to get the same result.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: What people sometimes forget.....

The problem is that lots of cities have cut pretty much all the fat many years ago but continue to make more cuts anyway, removing meat and bone.

The solution can’t always be to raise taxes, but equally it can’t always be to spend less. This probably depends on the specific city you’re talking about, but in many cities tax revenue is so low that they can no longer do an adequate job with the things that everyone agrees they should be doing.

This is the major problem with all those people who are rabidly anti-tax: that attitude is destroying many communities.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: You can't speed in Chicago

I’ve never lived in Chicago, but my wife and I go there every year. The gridlock can be bad (although there are many places where it’s much, much worse, believe it or not) but she still manages to speed on a regular basis. Just not on the highways (which we avoid to the greatest extent possible anyway, because toll roads are the worst.)

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: You can't speed in Chicago

I used to live in Chicago. It was always
> gridlock in that city. I can’t fathom how
> it would even be possible to go the speed
> limit, let alone exceed it

This is what always amazes me about the uniquitous high-speed police chases we have about once a week here in Los Angeles. I have no idea how these morons always manage to find the one set of freeways in L.A. that aren’t crawling along at 5 MPH. Everywhere I drive, it’s a mess, but some meth-head running from the cops always seems to be able to rocket along at 80 MPH or more for hours.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Guaranteed income

If the camera company worked a contract similar to that which most private companies work, in these privatization schemes, it is guaranteed a minimum profit out of this camera scheme.

If that’s the case, not only does the budget have a shortfall now, but it’s going to be even worse when the bill from the camera company arrives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Get a PR firm on this

According to the Mayor’s 2015 Budget Overview, there have been “lower than expected violation rates.”
How much lower? Fifty million dollars lower.

Since it is obviously nothing to do with safety, they just need to rebrand this. Instead of calling them “traps”, and instead of sending tickets for traffic violations, they can implement an optional speeding tax, and call the cameras “speed auditors” so they know where to send the tax bill.

This is win-win: people with extra disposable income can get to their destinations faster, and the city gets a pretty much guaranteed revenue boost.

amber (profile) says:

A retired police officer disgusted by the shameful way the police fleece the public these days has this advice: Fight every ticket in court. It will soon cost more to give out tickets than what it’s worth.

http://thefreethoughtproject.com/ex-police-sergent-tells-fight-speeding-fines/

http://thefreethoughtproject.com/fight-out-of-state-speeding-ticket/

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even if the ticket is valid, if you show up in court having fixed the problem (if it’s fixable), apologize to the judge and explain why you did whatever you got the ticket for, you’ll usually get the fine dramatically reduced or dismissed in the case of a fixable problem. At least, that’s how it works around here.

I recently got my first ticket in decades (for expired registration) and discovered that they’ve even automated the process. I got the car registered, had a cop inspect the car and sign a form saying it was properly registered, and the ticket was dismissed by a clerk on the spot. I didn’t even have to go to court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only $40 million from almost 3 million residents & a few million other neighbours. The Mayor just isn’t doing it right. He should get on down to Victoria, Australia where in a population of just 6 million they make around $500 million every year. Well the state gets some & the private traffic camera operators get to keep a truck load too.

Just reduce the margin for going over the speed limit to just one KPH (or in the USA’s case one MPH) & drastically increase all the fines on an upward sliding scale & tell the plebs it’s all for their safety, you know it makes sense!! /sarc

SilverBlade says:

The real problem is simple:

Once people know about the speed cameras, they simply slow down and don’t speed so they won’t have to pay a fine.

It isn’t rocket science here.

The mayor doesn’t have any right to kick, scream, whine and complain when people adjust their driving behavior to avoid paying a fine.

What did he think would happen? People would speed, pay a fine, and continue speeding?

He’s had more cocaine than former mayor Ford if he thinks this plan would work.

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