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Officials: Red Light Cameras About Safety, Not Revenue

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WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas
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Revenue collected to date from Albany's 35-strong red light camera network has all gone to the vendor that rents the devices to the city. City officials are OK with that.

Figures released to the public indicate the monthly take in tickets hovers around $45,000. Under terms of lease, Albany can keep anything above $130,000 a month. The city doesn’t have to pay the traffic light company the difference if they don’t hit the mark. But $2 million in projected revenue the cameras were expected to generate hasn't materialized.   Common Councilman Judd Krasher has remained a staunch opponent of the cameras.   "The initial $2 million dollar estimate didn't come from a good faith conversation with our current vendor Gatso, it didn't come from an independent analysis of the traffic patterns in the city of Albany and what other municipalities have done. It came from a red light camera lobbyist from a different vendor called American Traffic Solutions. And unfortunately, the mayor took that $2 million figure provided by a lobbyist and inserted it into the 2015 budget."

In recent days, city officials have argued that, from the start, making money was not the goal of red light cameras. Here's the mayor in May 2014:  "This is not something that we're looking at as a way of filling a budget gap or as another method of increasing the city's revenue. We're looking at it as a public safety tool."

Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox echoes those remarks today.   "But this wasn't about revenue in the first place. But what we do know is that as we're doin' our accident data, we are having safer streets due to the red light camera initiative. The intersections that we have these on, we had done the study beforehand, saw the number of accidents, we track those accidents every month by year, and we've had a significant decrease in most of those intersections. And that decrease actually started as we were talking about the red light cameras.  We've seen drastic changes, I mean y'know some of the ones I've got sittin' right in front of me, Lark and Madison in 2013 there were 29 accidents at that intersection. In 2014 it was 22. In 2015 it was 4. And in 2016 to date it's 3. That's a drastic change. Central and Colvin same thing. 2013 29 accidents. 2014 15 accidents. 2015 8. 2016 we've had one crash at that intersection.""

Krasher argues the data is skewed.   "The administration is scrambling to distract people from their budgetary responsibility by trying to argue, very hastily, that there is concrete evidence that red light cameras are improving traffic safety, when in reality, there is very little data, if any whatsoever."

Mayor Kathy Sheehan insists otherwise.  "We had projected revenue because when we installed the cameras there is a fine that is associated with it. There was an analysis that was provided to us, a review and a projection provided to us by the manufacturer as to what we could expect the revenues to be. Clearly, we didn't hit that number. We're not even close to that number. Am I frustrated by that? Absolutely. But we had always projected that this $2 million that then became $1.9 million in revenue was going to fall off dramatically as we saw compliance increase. And we saw that happen more rapidly than was projected."

Sheehan added the entire system is funded not by the city or its taxpayers but by the camera manufacturer.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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