Florida drivers who unsuccessfully contest red light camera tickets will have to pay $250 in administration fees, in addition to the cost of the ticket, under a new state law that took effect this month. The state legislature authorized the higher administration fees despite revelations earlier this year that state and local governments surreptitiously reduced yellow light times at intersections with red light cameras in order to induce more red light-running and more ticket revenue.
Local governments often view the red light cameras as revenue makers, serving as a form of hidden tax on motorists. However, the enhanced “tax” money taken at the expense of motorists doesn’t always result in positive net revenue streams.
A Miami Herald investigation found Pembroke Pines in Broward County counted on red light camera money to close its annual budget deficit, but the cameras turned out to be a net drain on the city’s budget. After paying the Arizona-based company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to install red light cameras in 2010, the city collected approximately $345,400 in red light ticket revenue in the years since. However, the city paid out a greater amount of money in monthly payments to ATS, hiring government workers to review the camera footage, and hiring lawyers to fight drivers in court. The city ultimately got stuck with a net deficit from the red light cameras of $432,000.
Residents ended up paying more money to government, government ended up with less net revenue, and the only winners appeared to be trial lawyers and the Arizona-based ATS.
A review of the payments made by local governments to red light camera companies reveals that red light cameras are often little more than a redistribution scheme, sending money from Florida motorists to out-of-state red light camera companies.
The City of Fort Lauderdale sent $300,000 to ATS, representing 30 percent of its red light camera ticket fines collected. Miami sent $2.2 million in red light ticket revenue to ATS, representing approximately 40 percent of its ticket fines collected. Hollywood sent $800,000 to ATS, also representing 40 percent of its ticket fines collected. Miami Gardens sent $1.6 million to ATS, representing approximately 55 percent of its ticket fines collected. Pembroke Pines sent $971,000 to ATS representing 98 percent of its ticket fines collected. Miami Beach sent $290,000 to its red light camera provider, Virginia-based Xerox State and Local Solutions, leaving just $700 left over.
Critics of the new law also question the fairness of the process by which motorists are required to pursue challenges to red light camera tickets. Motorists must appear before officials of the same local government that benefits from the ticket revenue.
“That’s a real conflict of interest,” attorney Ted Hollander, of the Miami-based Ticket Clinic law firm, told the Herald.