Expanding a failed red light program
(But this time it's "for the children")

Like a lot of bloggers, I've written about how red light cameras are a disaster from a legal perspective and a safety perspective. But (surprise!), the cameras are still there!

The Philadelphia red light camera problem is compounded by the worst sort of bureaucratic ineptitude, with the scandal-plagued Philadelphia Parking Authority treating revenues as money to fund an ever-expanding number of useless administrative jobs.

According to a report in today's Inquirer, the red-light cameras are part of a soon-to-expire "pilot program." Naturally, the bureaucracy wants it renewed, despite the fact that the ticket money revenue went down the usual rat holes:

A three-year pilot program to catch reckless motorists through red-light cameras in Philadelphia is set to end this month, and reauthorization for another three years appears likely, officials said yesterday.

However, as the state's legislative session winds down, lawmakers want to redirect some of the ticket revenue from the state Department of Transportation to the Philadelphia School District.

The enforcement program is run by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which has been buffeted by recent criticism of its spending practices and its unfulfilled pledge to funnel millions to city schools.

An "unfulfilled pledge" to fund the schools?

Let me get this thing straight. Apparently, the red light camera revenue never got past the bureaucrats who run the program, despite the fact that they "pledged" that it would.

So now, the program needs to be renewed?

Yes, because the money "could" go to the children:

Red-light money for schools could amount to as much as $1.5 million annually, and pending legislation would target those dollars for programs aiding advanced students and youths with behavioral problems.

If a bill is not passed, the cameras would go dark. That, a legislative staffer said, probably would be due to other political disputes' causing gridlock in Harrisburg. Nonetheless, lawmakers likely would take it up again after the holidays.

What a tragedy it would be to let the cameras go dark!

And a tragedy for the children! Who never got the money they were pledged, but who "could."

Doesn't that sound like the people who say "This time, we'll get it right, folks"?

Yes, and they're working "rigorously to get passage of the bill."

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the cameras cost a small fortune to operate:

The program was authorized in 2004, and the first cameras were activated at Roosevelt Boulevard and Grant Avenue on Feb. 23, 2005. Seven more locations received cameras along the Boulevard, as well as two in South Philadelphia.

There are 52 cameras, and they cost $4,995 a month each to operate, said Chris Vogler, manager of red-light photo enforcement for the Parking Authority. Revenues first go to cover operational costs.

I'd be willing to bet that almost any teenage kid with computer savvy could probably rig up a red light camera system that would cost a lot less to operate a month, but then, I'm not a bureaucrat (and maybe I shouldn't be giving them advice).

And of course they're haggling over who gets the money. All talk of "safety" and "helping the children" aside, this is all about money:

PennDot did not get its first check for $753,000 until September because of initial grace periods for ticket enforcement and the small number of initial cameras.

PennDot spokesman Gene Blaum said the agency believes it should continue to get the full funding, which it wants to direct toward road-safety projects in Philadelphia.

Catherine L. Rossi, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, agreed. She said red-light revenue should not be used as a "cash cow" for politicians.

If that happens, she said, "law enforcement will lose credibility."

God forbid that red light cameras might become a "cash cow."

As to law enforcement "credibility" it strikes me that even characterizing these obnoxious cameras as "law enforcement" demeans police work, and diminishes whatever credibility honest law enforcement personnel still retain. I liked the way Glenn Reynolds put it:

When the power to enforce the law is delegated to software employed by people who don't -- or can't be bothered to -- understand it, no one is safe. When you hear that people are using machines to enforce the law, remember the old computer-geek saying: "Garbage In, Garbage Out."
I guess if police are forced to become revenue collectors, it's a short step to forcing them to become garbage collectors.

Seriously, these cameras are undignified, unconstitutional, a hazard to motorists, invasive of privacy, and I think they're probably likely to cause an increase in certain types of "gun violence."

Hey, maybe to prevent ugly incidents like that they should hire red light camera police backups. You know, to, like, sit there and guard the cameras? And while they're sitting there they make sure they are working properly by, like, ticketing the drivers they actually see running red lights. Who knows? Maybe over time the use of police to actually do their job could become a "pilot program."

posted by Eric on 12.08.07 at 11:26 AM


Can't help with the legal stuff and all that, but I do have some advice about the safety aspect...


You're welcome.

Alan Kellogg   ·  December 8, 2007 2:01 PM

"Can't help with the legal stuff and all that, but I do have some advice about the safety aspect...


You're welcome."

Gee, do you think someone has missed the point here?

Bubba   ·  December 8, 2007 5:56 PM

AK, your advice is useless, since the government responds to less red light running by shortening the yellows and moving the stop line to an imaginary point a few yards behind the line painted on the pavement.

And the cameras are so expensive to operate because they contract it out to companies that have to deal with amortizing the expected vandalism costs that come with these hugely unpopular monstrosities, after spending a bunch of money to armor them up in the first place.

Phelps   ·  December 10, 2007 7:11 PM

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