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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

Red light cameras survive opposition on council

Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:12 PM

Red-light cameras will still police intersections in St. Petersburg after the program survived a challenge from City Council members who want to scrap the initiative they say is flawed and unfair.

Three council members on Thursday pushed to cancel the city's red-light camera contract, though the proposal failed in a 5-3 vote.

Still, the vote is another example of how, three years after they were authorized by state law, the cameras continue to generate controversy.

Last week, Mayor Bill Foster decided to dismiss tickets for owners who file legal paperwork saying they were not behind the wheel when their vehicles were recorded running red lights.

While the City Council does not have authority to make changes to the red-light camera program it can vote to cancel the contract.

Critics on the council cited the recent letter from Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke, who said the system is unfair. He cited the $106 hike in the $158 penalty if residents unsuccessfully appeal their citations and the confusion created by tickets issued to vehicle owners not driving at the time offenses were recorded.

Councilman Wengay Newton, who led the effort to scrap the program, also listed complaints from residents that some traffic signals cycle through yellow too quickly and said there is not enough evidence the cameras reduce accidents at intersections.

He said the city could cancel its contract with American Traffic Solutions without paying a penalty.

Newton was supported by council members Leslie Curran and Steve Kornell, both of whom opposed the introduction of red-light cameras.

Curran cited the case of an elderly resident on a fixed income who told her he was too scared to appeal his citation because he didn't want to risk losing and facing a $264 fine.

"It's obvious the system is flawed," Curran said. "This company is not in the business of promoting safety; they're concerned for the number of dollars they can put in their wallet."

St. Petersburg has 22 cameras installed at 10 intersections. Those cameras generated more than 36,000 citations during a 12-month period ending in October 2012, according to a city report.

That compares to just 1,025 issued by police officers on patrol during the same period.

The city receives half of each $158 citation and passes about half of that onto ATS.

Council members who supported the red-light cameras Thursday said they are making intersections safer.

"Overall, the red-light camera is successful; it reduces serious crashes," said Council Member Jim Kennedy.

Several state laws addressing red-light cameras have been filed in the current legislative session, some of which address issues raised by Burke, whose letter was also sent to Clearwater, Gulfport, Kenneth City, South Pasadena and Oldsmar, the other Pinellas cities where the cameras are in operation.

Council Member Jeff Danner gave a simple message to red-light camera critics.

"This is one of those things that is real simple to fix: Don't run red lights."