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Monday, Sep 24, 2018
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Editorial: Red-light lunacy

The Tampa City Council’s vote to kill the city’s red-light camera program defies all logic and common sense. The four council members who voted against a contract extension to keep the cameras in place for two more years — Yvonne Yolie Capin, Charlie Miranda, Mary Mulhern and Frank Reddick — generally agree the program makes the city safer.

But they are unhappy that the revenue, which totaled $1.6 million last year, is mixed into the city’s general fund rather than having some of it dedicated to transportation spending. Because of that marginal objection, they effectively put public safety at risk and undermined law enforcement. Their priorities are badly misplaced.

We trust Mayor Bob Buckhorn and at least one of the four council members will come to an agreement before the current contract expires next month, and this ridiculous vote will be overturned. Buckhorn said he plans to show them how the city is improving its transportation infrastructure.

And to his credit, the usually sensible Miranda said after the vote that he is willing to reverse course if the city shows how some of the red-light camera money can be spent improving transportation.

But it should never have come to this. The demand that revenue be dedicated to transportation improvements is suspect at best.

The city puts its red-light camera revenues into its general fund, which is used for plenty of transportation improvements, among other uses. Requiring the city to withhold those funds from general revenues for unspecified “transportation improvements” is unnecessary.

Even if the program is restored next month, the council’s vote Thursday has added a layer of uncertainty to a program that already has its share of critics, including a state senator who wants to kill every red-light program in Florida.

The council should have delayed its vote Thursday until getting a commitment from the mayor one way or another, rather than putting the program in jeopardy.

For a variety of reasons, red-light programs have been discontinued in other cities. St. Petersburg ended its program earlier this month because it anticipates operating costs will soon surpass revenues. But in Tampa, the contract calls for the vendor to pay the difference should revenues fall short of operating costs. And with $1.6 million in net revenue last year, it seems there are plenty of red-light runners who still need to be educated with a $158 ticket.

As Police Chief Jane Castor said, Tampa’s program works. Crashes have dropped where the cameras operate, and the number of citations has decreased in the two years the program has operated, an indication that motorists are changing their bad behavior.

Despite those results, there are critics who claim red-light programs are more about revenue than safety.

That’s clearly not the case in Tampa, where the numbers prove that the streets are safer because of the cameras.

Unfortunately, the City Council has thrown the efficient program’s future in doubt. Members should put an end to the political shenanigans and rectify this blunder before the contract expires next month.

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