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