The end may be near for red light cameras in St. Pete

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The end is near for Red Light Cameras in the city of St. Petersburg, according to Mayor Rick Kriseman, who says the controversial program will be dropped by September.

That is, unless City Council members beat him to it by voting RLCs out by as early as Thursday’s meeting.

“After two years of the implementation of this program,” Kriseman says in a statement issued Wednesday, “it is clear that red light cameras have done their jobs, that driver behavior is changing, and that St. Petersburg is now safer.

The mayor noted that overall crashes citywide have reduced, and he gives the controversial cameras much of the credit. However, with the change in driving habits, the number of tickets issued because of the cameras has also dropped.  

“At the current pace,” Kriseman adds, “revenues are expected to fall below the costs of the program in September of this year.”

Kriseman informed the City Council that if the RLC program continues beyond the City Council meeting scheduled tomorrow, and the red light running behavior continues to improve, it is likely revenues would fall below the overall cost of the program.

At that time, the city will remove the cameras.

The future of the program is already on shaky ground. Four of the eight members of the City Council say they want to vote Thursday to cancel the city’s contract with American Traffic Solutions, the RLC vendor for the city. The board will also consider refunding hundreds of tickets issued to drivers at intersections determined to have too-short yellow lights.

Council member Karl Nurse, an original proponent of the RLC program, has indicated it may be time to end the program; making him the likely swing vote.

Kriseman supported RLCs during the campaign, but only as a safety action to change driver behavior. With the decline in citations — from about 36,000 in the first year to around 26,000 last year — the mayor believes the cameras have done their primary job.  

“As Mayor, public safety is my highest priority,” Kriseman said. “I want to thank our Transportation & Parking Staff for their continued due diligence with respect to the safety of our citizens.”

Regardless of the how board votes, Kriseman said that the city would closely monitor the activity at St. Petersburg intersections and obtain additional crash data. Staff will continue to seek out new technologies to promote public safety on the streets.

“Should we see a need to reinstitute the cameras in the future,” Kriseman added, “we will do so.”

The Florida Legislature is also examining a bill to end RLCs statewide, filed in September by Sen. Jeff Brandes.

“I have consistently argued that red light cameras are not being used for safety but are about generating revenue,” Brandes said in February. “Revenue from red light cameras have risen 200 percent, and 76 percent of local governments that have red light camera programs use that money to pad their budget – only 14 percent spend that money on public safety.”

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.