‘Revenue Generating’ Traffic Cameras Forcing Governments To Refund Millions Of Dollars

Two stories show the incredible number of tickets a set of cameras can rack up in a short period
'Revenue Generating' Traffic Cameras Forcing Governments To Refund Millions Of Dollars

Image Credits: byzantiumbooks, Flickr

by Tim Cushing | Tech Dirt | August 26, 2014


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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