-By Warner Todd Huston
Red light cameras are a mixed bag across the USA. Big cities love them, small cities increasingly less. But one thing is universal where ever they are tried. The whole thing is about revenue generation, not public safety. Most city administrations try desperately to hide their greed behind hoary claims of safeguarding the public, but at least Toledo, Ohio has dispensed with some of that subterfuge and is admitting straight out that making money is a main goal.
We here in Illinois are once again being confronted with public officials contemplating more red light cameras. They claim it is for “public safety,” but we all know it is just because politicians are greedy for more money. At least Toledo officials were more honest than Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Last month Toledo’s finance director told the city council that they were installing 11 new red light cameras with the expectation that the project would “raise” $320,000. What did the city need that new revenue for? More government spending, of course.
Oh, and it’s for the children, too. Toledo Councilman Steve Steel was excited to get the new revenue. “It does restore the biggest thing we were looking for, which was giving kids something constructive to do in a positive atmosphere,” he crowed.
So, now officials will berate you if you stand against these useless devices that are just a means to give government more money to spend on pet projects because, darn it, it’s for the children! WHY do you hate kids, taxpayers?
Unfortunately for Toledo’s city fathers, red light cameras are increasingly failing at both revenue generation and public safety. Many cities that once had them have pulled them out because revenues dropped over time while maintenance costs continued to rise not to mention that some cities have found that the red light cameras actually cause more accidents instead of improving driver safety.
Worse, some cities have played games with the cameras in order to keep revenues flowing into their profligate hands. At least six cities were caught shortening yellow light times in order to catch more drivers running red lights.
But we don’t even have to stray from Toledo to show that new red light cameras won’t bring in a never ending stream of spending cash. Ohio native Maggie Thurber notes that Toledo has already seen revenues fall from other red light camera installations.
The problem, as I’ve detailed previously, is that the more people get used to red light and speed cameras, the less the revenue there is from violations. Since 2009 when the city added speed cameras and negotiated a higher percentage of the fines, the revenue has steadily decreased. This means that the city, in order to continue to collect their targeted budget amounts, must constantly expand the big-brother-type surveillance.
Yet, here they are trying for more red light cameras. Why? Because they imagine a pot o’ gold under every red light in the city. When politicians get dollar signs in their eyes its hard to shake them from the dreamy dream of more cash to spend on their pet projects. If it’s all about bringing in money they can spend. It has zip to do with safety.