With the Governor’s ink barely dry on a new law that gives Portland the authority to crack down on speeders with photo radar cameras, now is a perfect time for the City to re-assess its existing efforts in a similar front: red light cameras.
This morning the Audit Services Division released a report on Portland’s 11 red light cameras currently in use. Overall, the audit found that the red light camera program is working; but has lots of room for improvement.
Here are our five takeaways:
They appear to be working
Data from PBOT shows that the average annual number of crashes at locations where cameras are in use has declined compared to before the cameras were installed, even as more people drove through the intersections. The locations with cameras averaged 0.75 before they were installed and 0.42 after, a 44 percent decline. The auditor’s report did say, however, that those stats might be misleading because it’s not possible to know what other factors might have caused the decline.
Only about one-third of the photos result in a citation
The audit found that over a five-year period, only 39 percent of photos resulted in a citation. In cases where a citation was mailed, 75 percent resulted in some sort of payment. Put another way, just 28 percent of the people who were photographed by the cameras ended up paying a fine.
There are several reasons photos might not result in a citation and/or fine. They include: an unclear image where the driver’s identity cannot be confirmed, camera/equipment malfunction, or an unclear license plate number.
Pointing fingers about five cameras that got away
The audit uncovered a bit of intrigue between PBOT and the Police around the fate of five additional red light cameras that were supposed to be installed in 2011; but were instead sold to another city. The Police and the camera vendor say the cameras never got installed because PBOT couldn’t decide where to put them. PBOT’s side of the story is “more complex, and varies depending on the source,” the audit says. Some sources told the Auditor’s office that staff turnover at the Police bureau was to blame.
And here’s thing that really caught my eye: Transportation bureau sources said another reason the cameras never got installed was because they felt pressure to focus on street maintenance rather than safety.
Stronger collaboration needed between PBOT and the Police Bureau
With more red light cameras coming and new legislation that allows PBOT to install fixed-speed cameras on High Crash Corridors, coordination between the two bureaus responsible for engineering and enforcement must be stronger and more productive. Or, as the Auditor put it, “This ambitious plan will require a level of coordination between Police and Transportation that we did not find evidence of while conducting this audit.”
Red light cameras are not a cash cow
Far from it actually. According to the audit, the City’s red light camera program has operated at a loss in two of the five years studied. The starting fine for a red light camera citation is $260. Once the fee is reduced (which happens in 90 percent of cases when a case is brought to court) and the state, the camera vendor, and the court takes their share, the city makes very little.
In the City’s best year (FY 2012-2013) revenues were $725,408 and total expenses were $564,172, and revenue per citation was $16.84. But in 2011-12, when revenues were only $403,162 and expenses were $500,433, each citation cost the City $12.55.
With City Council’s recent adoption of a Vision Zero resolution and PBOT’s recent legislative victory on speed cameras, this audit comes at a very important time. Luckily, our current police chief used to head the the Traffic Division and seems to already be saying the right things. In a written response to the audit, Chief Larry O’Dea III committed to more frequent meetings with PBOT staff and he even mentioned Vision Zero.