3/16/2009Texas City Operates Under Unlawful Red Light Camera Contract
Illegal contract in College Station, Texas could invalidate red light camera citations.
Cities around the country are ignoring state laws designed to curb the financial incentive for private red light camera contractors to generate the greatest number of violations possible. In Texas, for example, the city of College Station signed a deal to allow American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to operate red light cameras and collect fines on the city's behalf. In return, College Station gives back to ATS a per-ticket fee that is capped at a rate of $4750 per intersection approach per month in direct conflict with a state law that took effect on September 1, 2007.
"The city's obligations and the total compensation paid to ATS over the course of this contract shall not exceed the total amount of civil penalties received from defendants," the contract between ATS and College Station signed November 19, 2007 states. "All payments shall be processed in accordance with AXSIS-BPA Payment Processing Overview, as approved by contractor and city. E-payments shall be charge to the city at the rate of $3.75 per payment."
The $3.75 per-ticket payment to the contractor applies to all violations paid online or by phone. Billing data obtained by local resident Jim Ash under an open records request show that ATS received a payment of $2246 for 599 tickets issued in the month of September 2008. This extra per ticket fee accounted for twelve percent of the total ATS compensation for that month. Texas Code 707.003 not only prohibits such payment arrangements, it enforces the prohibition by invalidating any citation issued under an illegal contract.
"(b) A local authority that contracts for the administration and enforcement of a photographic traffic signal enforcement system may not agree to pay the contractor a specified percentage of, or dollar amount from, each civil penalty collected," the law states. "A local authority may not impose a civil penalty under this chapter on the owner of a motor vehicle if the local authority violates subsection (b)."
So far the College Station cameras have caused an eleven percent increase in collisions. In response, the city will add more cameras according to a pre-established plan known as Phase 2.
"Hey guys... I was thinking if Phase 1 of our red light camera project isn't successful, we could go to Phase 2," College Station Mayor Ben White wrote in a May 2008 email obtained by Ash.
College Station is not alone in ignoring state prohibitions on per-ticket compensation. More than fifty California jurisdictions use cost neutrality contracts declared illegal by an appellate court in Orange County, but cities have successfully lobbied courts to keep these decisions unpublished which prevents them from being cited in a court proceeding for any purpose. Maryland cities likewise have flouted the state prohibition on per-ticket compensation for contractors that operate photo enforcement programs by claiming that the contractors are not "operating" the program. In Virginia, the city of Fairfax adopted a cost neutral contract with Redflex in violation of state law.
A copy of the College Station billing records for September 2008 is found in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.