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Tuesday, Dec 18, 2018
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St. Pete senator ‘all-in’ for repeal of red light cameras

TALLAHASSEE — A Tampa Bay lawmaker Monday said he wants to pull the plug on red light cameras after a new report shows accidents actually going up at some intersections with the cameras.

It also finds localities using the fine money to pad their general budgets instead of spending it on safety improvements.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, called red light cameras a “backdoor tax increase” and said he’ll “go all-in for full repeal” this legislative session.

Brandes, who chairs the Senate’s Transportation committee, has tried unsuccessfully to outlaw the cameras.

The Legislature approved the use of cameras statewide in 2010 to crack down on red light runners and decrease collisions.

Systems are now in use in St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County and in 24 other counties, mostly in Central and South Florida. Violators must pay a $158 fine.

“There are perverse incentives inherent in the red light camera program,” Brandes said, referring to findings that three-quarters of localities use red light camera fines for general spending, not strictly for public safety. “We should terminate this failed program.”

Moreover, a former national salesman for Arizona-based red light camera vendor RedFlex has accused the company of bribing officials in Florida and 12 other states to win contracts.

RedFlex, which has a contract in Jacksonville, already lost a $100 million deal with the city of Chicago after the allegations became public.

Brandes joined Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, in a news conference at the Capitol with the Legislature’s research office report.

But the numbers were a mixed bag for the cameras’ detractors and proponents.

Rear-end, ‘T-bone’ and other crashes increased 12 percent after cameras were allowed statewide, from 9,849 to 11,035, but deaths also went down by half, from 37 to 19, according to the report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

Brandes said it’s not clear whether red light cameras alone contributed to the decrease in fatalities, mentioning many newer cars are safer than older vehicles.

Artiles also noted that nearly a quarter of the 80 jurisdictions surveyed didn’t respond to the questionnaire, suggesting the number of deaths could be greater.

In Pasco and Pinellas counties, rear end crashes went up 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively, at red light cameras intersections over the last three years, but they decreased 26 percent in Hillsborough County, the report said.

The cameras are moneymakers for local governments and the camera vendors.

St. Petersburg reported taking in $1.4 million in fines from its red light cameras and Hillsborough County collected $1.3 million in fiscal year 2012-13, the report shows.

But across the state, half of all money collected is paid to the vendors who supply and maintain the systems.

From 2011 to 2013, red light camera revenue more than tripled statewide from $37.6 million to $118.9 million, according to the report.

Brandes and Artiles said if they can’t get the program repealed this year, cities and counties should at least increase their yellow-light times and heighten some traffic signals’ visibility to bring down violations.

Representatives for the city of St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County government were not immediately available for comment.

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