City Of Burien Seeing Red Over Red Light Camera Revenue (Or Lack Thereof)

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by Jack Mayne

Instead of reaping a massive windfall profit from the red light cameras on First Avenue, it appears the City of Burien may actually have lost $16,574 during the program’s first ten and a half months.

Many readers of The B-Town Blog have said in comments that the primary reason for the red light violation cameras was to raise money.

Not true said city officials and it proves true in figures released by the city. How is this possible?

The big winner is Redflex, the Arizona company that owns the cameras and operates them under contract with the city. Burien has paid the company $204,012 from May 2009 through April 2010. The city’s contract with Redflex is for $19,400 a month (the first month was less for Redflex because the program did not start until the middle of May, 2009).

The numbers are preliminary said Lori Fleming, Burien’s contract analyst handling the project, because the city and the district court adjudicating the red light citations meets once a year to adjust its costs. That meeting is slated for later this month, said Fleming.

The current estimate used by the city to figure costs is $10 per ticket or $43,590 for the 4,359 tickets issued.

Here are the numbers from the city:

  • 4,359 tickets issued from May 2009 through March 2010.
  • Total revenue from the District Court is $231,028 for the same period.

So subtract Redflex’s contract costs totaling $204,012 and the district court costs of $43,590 and Burien has lost $16,574. Fleming says that court cost may change when the city and the court reconcile the court’s actual costs later this month.

What is Redflex?
Burien contracted with Redflex to install and monitor all five camera locations. There are cameras monitoring First Avenue South at Southwest 148th Street, First Avenue South at Southwest 152nd Street and First Avenue South at Southwest 160th Street.

According to the company website, Redflex:

“…shares the same vision as your community: to reduce the risk for tragedy on the road. Over time, Redflex technology has proven to make an impact on public safety. Results show road safety cameras have helped create safer U.S. communities, from those of a few thousand residents, where red light running has been reduced at a single intersection, to statewide freeways where more drivers are keeping a better eye on their speedometers.”

It has contracts for electronic enforcement around the world, including in Seattle and British Columbia.

Many cities have faced losing money on the contracts, including several in California. The company itself says it has lost money since the recession began.

Fleming said there have been preliminary discussions with Redflex officials about reducing the $19,400 monthly fee, and she noted the company appeared willing to discuss changes.

The word is out that you don't just go racing through our intersections anymore..." - City Manager Mike Martin.

Speed, not money
City Manager Mike Martin said the “whole idea” of the five cameras at three intersections was never to make money but to slow down the speed on First Avenue, where traffic problems have multiplied in recent years.

“The word is out that you don’t just go racing through our intersections anymore,” he told The B-Town Blog.

Burien Police Chief Scott Kimerer also says the cameras were to slow traffic and reduce accidents. When asked about the program, he said, “it is not a money maker.”

“If we wanted only to make money, that means we would want people to run red lights, and that causes accidents,” Kimerer said.

“That doesn’t make any sense from a law enforcement standpoint. We don’t want people to get hurt.”

The chief said there have been no accidents at the three intersections that were caused by motorists stopping changing lights or traceable to the cameras. There have been some sideswipe accidents but they might have been the result of changes made in left turn lanes and other street reconfigurations.

Kimerer did say there have been some rear-end accidents, five or less over a year’s time. Some residents suggest this is because drivers slammed on their brakes rather than enter the intersection as the light changes to yellow.

“I don’t know if (cameras) are the cause of that or not,” he said.

Kimerer dismissed questions about the potential that the yellow light timing may have been shortened to catch more violators and says the city Public Works department says the lights are set to national standards.

An illegal camera?
Some B-Town Blog readers question the legality of the cameras at First Avenue South at Southwest 160th Street and Ambaum Way. The state law permitting use of the cameras reads, “Use of automated traffic safety cameras is restricted to two-arterial intersections, railroad crossings, and school speed zones only.”

But there are three arterials at that intersection: SW 160th, Ambaum and First Avenue. The city does identify Ambaum at the intersection a “collector arterial,” which seems only to cloud the problem.

Chief Kimerer says “you can read into that law that you can only put these cameras where there are at least two arterials, there can’t be one arterial, there has to be two arterials. But then maybe it can be more.

“Those are legal questions and, to be honest, we hire a company to come in and put these cameras in. We expect, since they have experience in this state, we are going with that they are aware of the laws, that they are aware of where they can and cannot place these.” The chief says, “As far as I know, we have not lost any cases because they have challenged that intersection (in court).”

City Manager Martin says it appears the city did not specifically research that question when drafting the agreement with Redflex and that the city depends on Redflex, as the experienced camera provider, to have made the determination prior to installing the cameras at 160th.
Redflex commented via e-mail.

“In response to your question, the intersection at First Ave and S. 160th St are in fact arterial roadways that intersect,” said the Redflex response. “The other intersecting roadway, however, at Ambaum Blvd S. is a residential feeder and not an ‘arterial roadway’ therefore it does not appear to violate the statute.”

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21 Responses to “City Of Burien Seeing Red Over Red Light Camera Revenue (Or Lack Thereof)”
  1. Coverofnight says:

    Every citizen reading this blog (me included) lost money with these cameras! It’s our tax dollars that are going to be used to pay this Arizona company (probably could have fixed a few potholes with that cash going out of our city). Time to get rid of these cameras! With the increased traffic into our city, I’m surprised anybody can get a speeding ticket if they tried! Throw in elderly drivers, pedestrians and cyclists – traffic frequently flows slower than the posted speed limit. The congestion is getting worse everyday. You’ll NEVER convince me that these lights are there for any other reason than to generate revenue. Now that people are aware of these lights, it’s sure that the number of tickets will decrease in the coming year….but how much do you want to bet that the fee to the Arizona company will remain constant or even increase due to inflation? We’ll continue to get hosed by these cameras, but yet, our elected officials will parrot the safety line and take no action on the issue – just wait and see!

    • Samantha says:

      Any politician who opposes these cameras will get my vote. Plain and simple… anyone who supports them needs to get kicked out of office.

      Such a stupid idea… a great way to make money under the guise of “safety”. Total BS! Serves em right for losing money!!! Way to go Burien!

  2. Bart Blackmon says:

    They will change the contract so the city will make the money it expected to make. The light company can’t interfere with that too much for fear of blowing its cover – that it is all about making money and nothing about safety. They manipulate government officials through carefully orchestrated “public” outcries and “organizations” they have pre-stocked with shills whose purpose is to get them business. They get entrenched like rats in a ship and even harder to get rid of. The only reason law enforcement can claim it’s not to make money is because somebody goofed setting up the contract and gave the camera company too big a cut. They’ll fix that, don’t worry. Your best choice is to map a different route and do not go through those intersections. that way no matter how big the city’s cut is, they won’t make money off you and the best part is, neither will the camera company. If they lose interest maybe they’ll go away and take their lousy cameras with them. Meantime, Buy one of those Whistler or other camera brand detectors. They are legal – they use GPS. Don’t put up with it – go elsewhere and let them deal with the consequences instead of them entrapping you and making you pay for it. You can’t just complain, you have to foil the plot with some maneuvers of your own.

  3. Tiffany says:

    The math doesn’t add up here. If all of the 4,359 fines were paid that would mean that the city would have brought in over $440,000 and would have had more than enough to pay the *Australian* company, Redflex, and cover court costs. But the total revenue from the Court is only $231,028? …oh wait, people must not be paying the “tickets” – about half of them aren’t being paid!

    Sounds like they would be making a bunch of money if people were paying…too bad for Burien city officals, they seem to have less compliant citizens (a.k.a. atm machines) than the other cities that have used this revenue generator disguised as a safety measure.

    They aren’t fooling anyone, they are all about making money, that’s it.

  4. Stephen Lamphear says:

    Put some cameras at crosswalks. Seems few drivers stop for pedestrians.

    In addition, make crosswalks on major streets safer. 4-lane roadways can be very tricky for both pedestrians and drivers — when one lane stops for a pedestrian who can’t be seen by another lane.

    And pedestrians need to make it clear to drivers that they intend to use the crosswalk.

  5. Lee Moyer says:

    Of course, the city can’t win. If they make money “It; all about money, blalh, blah, blah…” If they lose money “It is a money loser, hah, ha. ha,…”.
    I like the photo system. I have never had a problem with a driver behind me as I stop at a light. Nor have I had any other problem due to the cameras. On the other hand, I was nearly hit by a driver speeding to make a light and losing control. I have had to wait while bozos continue to go through a red light because they are too selfish to wait their turn. A few seconds is more important to them than the safety of pedestrians and other drivers.
    This is a system of law enforcement where the bulk of the cost is borne by the offenders. Seems fair to me.

  6. Bob from Illinois says:

    It is all about the money. In this case the redlight camera is getting it.
    The redlight cameras do a lot of selling through direct and indirect sales to police agency’s and government entities (cotrolling traffic) to ensure that the emphasis to the public is safety. But put requirements in to increase yellow, and lower fines for turns (if municipality allows that) and red light camera companies will insist on their fee’s be paid regardless of safety increases / decreases.

    And as someone rightfully pointed out, redflex is a australian company….
    What safety improvements were made and if any, how was it measured.
    Getting an independent study outside of any connections with the camera company or the municipality is very important to measure this accurately!

  7. Rob says:

    Whether or not I like the photo system, $19,400 a month is an awful lot. Could probably pay two or three policeman salaries with that scratch.

  8. Really? says:

    Be prepared without warning to have the yellow caution light timing shortened so the intersections can become even “more safe”.

  9. Facts please says:

    Burien contracted for police service to King County Sheriff to the tune of 7.1 Million dollars in the 2010 budget. The city “lost” less than 17 Thousand dollars in over 10 months of camera operation (by extension about 20 thousand per year).

    Any idea how many accidents (and hours of police time) were avoided by reducing the number of people blowing through red lights?

    An extra 20 thousand dollars annually will not get you even one more patrol officer.

    • Eric says:

      I think you are missing the math. Rob and JP are saying use the $19,400.00 a month rental fee on the cameras to hire a few new police officers. That’s $232,800.00 the city is paying Redflex in rental fees. I think $232,800.00 would cover the cost of at least two new officers.

    • Rob says:

      According to the article the city is paying 20,000 monthly… not annually. I certainly think 20,000 monthly will pay for a new officer.

      • Facts Please says:

        Rob and Eric,

        You are correct, the contract costs almost $20,000 per month per the article, with gross revenues of 231,0028. To do a good cost comparison, we would need to know the revenues the city collected in red light fines before the cameras and the costs associated with ticketing and collection. Were gross red light ticket revenues close to $231,000 for the ten months prior to the cameras? I never saw that much enforcement dedicated to stoplights, but I don’t hang out on those street corners.

  10. Bev Horn says:

    If the traffic camera were “working”, there wouldn’t be so many people having to pay fines. The courts would be empty. What it signifies is that people get caught in an intersection because of traffic bunched up ahead, they’re stopping a couple of feet into the white lines, they’re not seeing the school zone speed limit signs or going one mile an hour over the normal speed limit.

    If it’s SAFETY we’re concerned with, there would be LED adjustable lights with another sign telling you how fast your speed is. THAT would slow people down. Putting new cameras all over intersections evidently isn’t correcting the problem or as I stated before, the courts wouldn’t be so full. Thousands of people aren’t blowing through red lights. There’s a lot of “technicalities” that a policeman would never give a ticket for.

  11. RationalCenter says:

    I have little sympathy for people being ticketed for running red lights. (Just so you know, that includes my family members that have indeed received tickets.) I don’t care if the city makes money or loses money on the deal. The argument that we could hire a policeman for $19,400 per month? Even if it did (and I doubt it), that’s one person for 40 hours per week. The cameras work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – that’s 168 hours. As for the argument that the yellow light is being shortened, that’s specifically against the law, and you can easily take a moment to measure that time if you want and see that is hasn’t happened. Finally, the argument that because we have people in court then the cameras aren’t working doesn’t really hold up. We have no idea how many people were running the lights before the cameras went up; for all we know, ten times as many people were blowing through the intersections. Besides, we have people in court for murder every day, does that mean we should give up and say that laws against murder don’t work?

    The intersections are marked clearly, and anyone driving an appropriate speed limit will have no problem stopping in time. Anyone that’s foolish or careless enough to end up running the light deserves the fine. And I know the one family member that got ticketed is now far, far more careful about when to stop at an intersection!

  12. Beatrice says:

    Happy to have the red light cameras. Everyone becomes more careful if only to avoid a ticket. If it saves an accident it saves police time ($$$ for those who are so concerned about it), traffic tie ups and lives. If it’s your life or the life of someone you love you’d be willing to pay big bucks.

  13. Kai J. says:

    Cameras and other revenue generating technology targeted at motorists is here to stay.

    The answers above about the legality of the camera system at 1st Ave and 160th is vague BS. They know it does not comply with state law. They refered to Ambaum as a residential feeder!!! TO what?? Bowling, the crappy gas station. or maybe the Casino?? What residential area? A feeder with a double yellow line.

    It will take just one person like me, to fight back and appeal the greedy district court on the multi-arterial fact and the case will quickly find class action status. The city will get another black eye and all those fines will have to be refunded. They prey on the lazy and week, and just one motorist pushing back will teach them an expensive lesson.

    Porsche Driver with an Anti-Photo plate cover.

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