Riverside Looks Likely to Shutter Red-Light Camera Program

Red-light cameras have been snapping pictures and sending out tickets in the city since 2006

Riverside may be the latest place to cap the lens on the red-light traffic cameras that detractors say are a costly annoyance to drivers.

The city council is poised to vote on eliminating its red-light camera program after eight years of operation in the face of what some officials have said is an exceedingly negative public response.

Council members who support the proposal cite the overwhelmingly unfavorable public opinion, even from people who haven’t received tickets, as a factor in their decision.

“Eighty-five to 90 percent of people absolutely hate them,” said Councilman Mike Soubirous. “Whether they are young or old, rich or poor, have received tickets or not ... they all hate them.”

Soubirous, who previously had a decades-long career with the California Highway Patrol, said he believes the cameras simply don’t keep people from running red lights.

“Most of the tickets are for turning right on red and the fines they get from the cameras are excessively heavy,” he said.

Tickets for running a red light recorded by the cameras cost $490.

Councilman Mike Gardner was the sole vote against moving forward the plan to eliminate the cameras earlier this week. He said though he agrees the fines are excessive, the cameras provide a public service.

“I think that Riverside warrants its program,” Gardner said. “I think it cuts down on red-light runnings.”

Some data has supported the assertion that the cameras decrease the number of accidents at intersections. But opponents of the cameras say the limited data available can skew results.

Both the city of San Bernardino and the city of Los Angeles nixed their red-light camera programs in 2012.

Red-light cameras have been snapping pictures of violations in Riverside since 2006. Its current contract with the outside firm that manages and maintatins them ends in 2016, but no early termination fee would be levied for an early termination if the council gives advance notice to the company.

While council members say it has not had an impact on the current debate, the company that makes and maintains the cameras is also facing legal hurdles that may complicate the conversation about future use of the recording devices.

Redflex Holdings, the parent corporation of the company that makes the cameras, has been implicated in a $2 million bribery scandal in Chicago, at the same time a former executive of the firm has filed a lawsuit accusing his former employer of bribing officials in 13 states, including California.

Gardner said while he is aware of the allegations against Redflex, the problems that arose in Chicago were specific to the city and not applicable to Riverside. 

“If there was another available company I would be interested in pursuing a relationship with them,” Gardner said. “There just really isn’t one.”

Council members have said the scandal has not been particularly relevant in the debate over the cameras so far.

The cameras themselves cost around $400,000 per year to operate and maintain and the city grosses roughly $500,000 in revenue from them.

A different makeup of the city council mulled the option to cancel its contract in 2012 to save money during a city budget deficit but instead settled for reducing the number of cameras.

This time, however, council members characterized the chances of ending the contract as likely.

The council will make a final decision July 8.

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