TAMPA — The fate of Tampa’s red light cameras is up for debate Tuesday as the City Council decides whether to renew a contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Tempe, Ariz. company that has placed 51 red-light cameras on 21 intersections in the city limits.
For Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Police Chief Jane Castor, the choice is clear: Both want to keep the cameras.
“The red-light cameras have made the streets of Tampa safer for the driving public,” Castor said. “Clearly, red light cameras have changed the behavior of the driving public. Anybody who drives on the city streets can see people stop now for red lights.”
If council members approve, the current contract will be extended through April 2016. The cameras first appeared at local intersections after the council voted 4-3 in April 2011 to install the devices for three years.
The city pays American Traffic Solutions $3,750 per camera per month. Each citation carries a $158 fine, part of which goes to the state’s trauma fund and to a program for spinal injuries.
Still, the city netted slightly more than $1.6 million last fiscal year, leading some to say the cameras are more about money than safety.
Police, though, say crashes at Tampa intersections where cameras were installed dropped by about third over the first two years. The success was impressive, police said, and the number of cameras went from 21 to 51 in the last three years, even as the number of citations dropped.
Police say the program pays for itself.
In the 2012 fiscal year, the department issued 68,846 citations. The number of citations dropped 15 percent in 2013 to 58,435.
Castor disagreed with critics who say the lights are just a way to increase revenue for the city.
“The statistics speak for themselves,” she said. “The crashes have gone down and the number of citations have gone down, too.”
She said the lights take the place of 18 traffic officers who normally would be patrolling the more dangerous intersections.
Earlier this month, the St. Petersburg City Council voted to pull the plug on its red-light cameras at the urging of newly elected Mayor Rick Kriseman.
In St. Petersburg, the program was on track to soon cost more to operate than was generated in fines. As people become aware of the intersections where cameras stand guard, fewer violations are recorded and fewer violations mean less fines coming into the city.
Those intersections are safer and there is no need for the cameras there, the mayor successfully argued. Red-light cameras in St. Petersburg will come down sometime before September.
The cameras were installed at 10 St. Petersburg intersections after the city approved them in 2011. More than 36,000 citations were issued in the first year. But as motorists adjusted their behavior, the number of citations dropped from 3,000 a month to about 1,000 in January.
Across the state, fatalities fell by 50 percent at intersections with cameras, according to a recent traffic survey report.
Currently, 24 Florida counties have cameras, including Hillsborough and Pasco.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has questioned the safety claims made by advocates of the cameras and has proposed a bill that would ban red-light cameras across the state.