Installation of red-light cameras in Columbia to cease

Friday, November 18, 2011 | 6:19 p.m. CST; updated 5:50 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia has halted installation of red-light cameras, according to city officials. After announcing in January the intention to install 11 more, the city has now taken the plan off the table. 

The cameras were installed in 2009 at five intersections in the city. In their two years of operation, the number of paid violations has decreased. In 2010, 1,457 tickets were paid. In 2011, that number dropped to 829.

Gatso USA, the private company that installed and maintains the cameras, receives a fee of $44 per paid ticket. The company received $54,076 from camera violations this year, down by $4,532 from the last fiscal year.

After payment to Gatso USA and expenses for police personnel, court and prosecution costs, and supplies, the city brought in $18,047 in revenue in fiscal 2010.

In fiscal year 2011, the cameras generated $116,650, down $41,865 from the previous year. City officials could not provide the city's expenses for fiscal year 2011. 

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that revenue had no bearing on the decision not to install more cameras. 

"The reason red-light cameras were put in was to make the public more aware of the potential consequences of running red lights," he said.

Gatso President Andrew Noble said the decision against installing more cameras was the result of survey work the company completed at other intersections for which cameras were being contemplated. Those intersections didn't yield enough violations to justify cameras. 

That might indicate that the red-light cameras already installed have caused drivers to be cautious throughout the city, St. Romaine said. "I think it's had a spill-over effect into the rest of Columbia."

Noble also said money had a bearing on the decision. Columbia Public Communications Director Toni Messina, however, said the number of violations was the primary factor, but conceded revenue is also down. 

"They're not seeing the type of violations that they had seen earlier. The number of red-light violations has leveled off to a point where it's looking like they had the desired effect," she said. "When that happens, it generates less revenue and the vendor is affected by that as well."

Messina, like St. Romaine, emphasized that the city's intent was not to boost revenue but to make drivers more safe.

The city's fiscal goal for the cameras, St. Romaine said, was to at least break even. Last year's surplus went into the general revenue fund. 

St. Romaine said that more cameras are unnecessary because the ones currently in place have decreased violations throughout the city. 

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Mark Flakne November 19, 2011 | 3:30 p.m.

Note that the city's agents point to no credible empirical evidence stating that the cameras can be credited for the lack of red light violations at other intersections, but they waste no time in making that claim. Read about their last study in the following links.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle November 19, 2011 | 4:56 p.m.

The city is currently violating state law requiring signage marking photo-enforced intersections. The Providence/Broadway intersection, where the first camera was installed for northbound approaches, has a sign. But the southbound approach, which has since had a ticketing camera installed, does not have a sign.

Can anyone else confirm whether or not any other approaches are missing a sign?

As for fewer violations, I'd like to point out that the northbound Prov/Bdwy camera, the single highest grossing camera in operation, was out of commission for almost 2 months this winter, having been demolished by an accident during one of our snowstorms. That, alone, accounts for roughly 15% of the decrease in violations.

Looking at the graph of monthly citations for '09:'s quite clear that the cameras didn't make much difference for that year. It would be nice if we could see this graph updated for all approaches from installation to date, so we can actually see the decline in violations over time.

(Report Comment)
James Walker November 19, 2011 | 8:39 p.m.

If the city would just add 1.0 seconds to the yellow intervals on the lights, the existing cameras could all be removed as unnecessary. In almost every case, safer and longer yellow intervals reduce violations by A LOT MORE than ticket cameras. Ticket cameras are about $$$$$$, not safety. See the science and unbiased research on our website and start calling city officials to demand safer and longer yellow intervals with no cameras. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI

(Report Comment)
frank christian November 19, 2011 | 9:27 p.m.

"Ticket cameras are about $$$$$$, not safety." Are you sure? Our Mayor Hindman, always concerned with safety of our citizens, unless harm to the planet may someday occur, wrote "cameras might create more "rear end" accidents but they are much less lethal than a head on collision." I believe, however, that he may have mentioned the revenue from cameras as a welcome addition to City coffers. Decisions, decisions!

More seriously, as a driver never trying to beat a "light", the cameras pose an unnecessary stress and angst that I may someday have to defend against an erroneous accusation posted by a camera! We are supposed to be "governed by laws rather than men", but sometimes.....

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton November 19, 2011 | 10:09 p.m.

No need to speculate what the cameras are about: just read the article: the whole thing is about revenue.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 20, 2011 | 7:01 a.m.

@ James Walker:

Thanks for the reference. Looks to me as if the "all red interval" would be best from a safety standpoint. I seem to recall encountering this.

But...whine!...whine!...that will add a few seconds to my commute. Oh, you poor baby! LEAVE EARLIER! If you're dead or paralyzed for life those few seconds lost aren't going to mean a lot.

Consider that traffic signals have commonalities to computers used for other purposes, and an important commonality is programming. They simply do what someone programs them to do.

Unfortunately there is something no traffic signal can do: prevent a drunken driver from running a light that has been red for far more than a second, crashing full speed into another vehicle legally crossing the intersection. Both drivers survived the crash; the vehicles were totalled.

I agree that the principle virtue of the cameras it to collect revenue.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne November 21, 2011 | 10:20 p.m.

Here is a new blog on the subject.

(Report Comment)

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