The Palm Coast City Council decided today to stick with the 10 spy-and-snap red-light cameras around town, and allow the company running them to install more of them—even though the city will barely break even for its role in the arrangement while the private company running the cameras will cash in on up to 86 percent of the revenue it is allowed to split with the city.
The Palm Coast City Council is ready to sign a seven-year deal despite those numbers, and questionable evidence that the cameras are improving safety.
Based on 2011 citations and a retroactive contract the city just worked out with its contractor, American Traffic Citations, the company running most of the spy cameras installed on Florida roads, will have taken in 72 percent of the revenue that didn’t get sent to the state, while Palm Coast could hold on to just 28 percent. Palm Coast’s proportion will decrease as traffic citations increase.
The arrangement Palm Coast City Council members settled on today calls for the city to make just $700 per camera per month, while ATS will make every dollar beyond that, up to $4,200 per camera per month—an 86-14 percent split. That revenue is based on the $75 net the city is entitled to split with its contractor, after the state has taken its cut out of each citation, which is $78. But state dollars are recycled through state spending on anything from roads to court operations to state policing. The money Tempe, Ariz.-based ATS makes is entirely taken out of the community and the state.
That 86-14 percent split assuming the city’s cameras are generating 660 citations per month. That hasn’t happened since 2009, when there were 745 citations a month, and a new state law regulating cameras and how citations could be issued hadn’t yet kicked in. In 2011, there were just 333 citations a month. The figure is about the same so far this year, City Manager Jim Landon says, netting the city no more than $7,000 a month, or $84,000 a year. The city’s administrative cost is at least $54,000 (not including the extensive legal fees it’s been spending to work out its long-running dispute with ATS), leaving $30,000 for its $12.5 million Street Improvement Fund, or 0.24 percent of that fund.
“I just want to make sure that we are protected as a city,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said. “I want to make sure that $700 per camera per month covers our staff time. Not interested in making a profit, although it’s nice to put money into safety improvements for our streets, but I’m not interested in subsidizing ATS business.”
The city’s own numbers show that the spy-and-snap camera arrangement does just that: subsidize ATS.
A presentation by the city administration to the council this morning listed the city administrative costs at $36,000, though Landon, when asked by council member Jason DeLorenzo, what the actual costs have been, Landon said: “Average monthly cost for us was just under $4,500.”
It wasn’t the only discrepancy surrounding the way the administration presented the issue to council members. At one point, a pie chart flashed on the screen showing the “proposed distribution formula” for the money generated by the citations. The pie (see to the right) showed a monthly gross total of $24,171, with the state taking its share, leaving Palm Coast with 29 percent of the rest, considerably more than what ATS would be left with.
But the projection was based on an entirely fictional number: the monthly gross was artificially lowered to the $24,171 figure—which has nothing to do with the actual $60,000 a month being generated on average each month now—to make Palm Coast’s proportion of the money look better than it really is. Since Palm Coast is guaranteed $7000 a month, lowering the total gross revenue artificially raises Palm Coast’s share. In reality, the higher the revenue, the more Palm Coast’s share stays the same, and the more profits go to ATS (and the state), making Palm Coast the perennial loser.
There is a provision that would start netting Palm Coast more money, after a certain benchmark. But for that to happen, the spy cameras would have to more than double the amount of citations they are currently generating, to 660 a month. Beyond that point, Palm Coast’s revenue would theoretically increase some. Only theoretically, because ATS can ensure against that, too, by simply adding more cameras, and limiting Palm Coast’s revenue to the flat $700 for each additional camera, cashing in on the rest.
The city council members appeared undisturbed by the discrepancies, relying instead on a different set of questionable numbers to say that the cameras are not there to make money—at least not for the city—but to change drivers’ behavior.
Evidence vs. Assumptions
“When you put the red light cameras up initially, it’s amazing how many people you catch running the lights, but after people figure out that there is a mechanism to catch you, the numbers go down,” Landon said.
To buttress his point, Landon put up numbers showing a decrease in citations issued at every one of the 10 intersections around town from 2008 to 2011. But driver behavior may have little to do with it.
Citations, Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth told the council a few months ago, have gone down on average 17 percent a year for the past three years across the state.
The reason? The economic downturn has reduced traffic on Florida roads substantially, and more so on Flagler County roads, where the boom was as pronounced as the crash has been. That’s not anecdotal evidence: daily vehicle miles traveled in Flagler County, according to Florida Department of Transportation figures, dropped from 1.82 million in 2006, at the height of the building boom, to 1.71 million as of last June, a 6 percent decline (as opposed to a 5 percent decline statewide). In other words, Flagler County residents, overwhelmingly in Palm Coast, are driving, on average, 110,000 fewer miles a day locally.
The numbers provided by Landon’s administration themselves (based on sheriff’s office data) make the point that there is no co-relation between traffic cameras and reduced crashes. (Landon himself cautioned that he wasn’t making such co-relations; he was merely presenting the numbers the council members had requested.
The numbers don’t necessarily reflect crashes at actual intersections. They include crashes near intersections. But the relevant matter is the trend. That trend shows declines in crashes at five of seven intersections with spy-and-snap cameras. Curiously, the presentation did not show numbers from all 10 intersections. The crashes may have decline for the same reason that traffic citations declined: there’s less traffic.
The presentation also included crash data from a list of Palm Coast 18 intersections where there are no traffic cameras. Traffic crashes declined between 2010 and 2011 at 14 of those intersections, again suggesting little correlation between spy-and-snap cameras and crash activity.
And the presentation included summaries from what studies on traffic cameras have been saying for years: that while one type of crash is decreased by the cameras, another type (rear-end crashes especially) increases, with an overall “modest aggregate crash-cost benefit.”
Except, of course, for companies running traffic cameras.
For all that, the council endorsed more spy cameras. “ATS is confident and we are too that there are still some intersections out there that have a large number of runners,” Landon said, “so they do plan on adding new cameras.”
Until 2010, cities imposed whatever fine they chose, under whatever conditions they chose, and usually split the money between themselves and the company that runs the cameras. The system was sold as a means of making intersections safer, though evidence is mixed about cameras’ safety benefits. More provably, the cameras were cash cows for local governments that installed them, and the company that ran them. Palm Coast at the height of spy-camera activity, before the depth of the recession took the winds out of local traffic, was making close to $1 million a year, and averaging close to 1,000 citations a month.
But local governments’ use of traffic cameras was legally suspect because until the 2010 law, the state, by law, reserved for itself all such devices, and forbade local governments from infringing on state or policing functions involving traffic devices.
Local governments like Palm Coast sneaked around the prohibition through a scheme that placed traffic cameras under the government’s code enforcement rules. The infractions weren’t traffic citations, in other words (and there were no points leveled at drivers’ records), but code enforcement violations. The Third District Court of Appeal in South Florida ruled last November that the scheme was legal.
In July 2010, the Legislature passed a law that made all traffic camera regulations uniform. The new law sought to minimize that sort of scheming by placing local courts, rather than code enforcement authorities, in charge of appeals, and by laying out strict rules according to which citations could be issued.
The new law made fines uniform, too. Previously, Palm Coast infractions resulted in a $125 fine. The city took $80 of that, ATS took $45. The state set the universal fine at $153, taking $78 for state coffers and leaving local governments to figure out how to split the remaining $75.
For all that, the cameras have been a legal nightmare across Florida and other states, where drivers have been suing, and frequently winning, as one did in Pasco County in March. There, Pasco County Judge Anne Wansboro threw out the $158 fine levied against Thomas Flippone, ruling that the camera “impermissibly shifts the burden of proof to the defendant and therefore does not afford due process, and is unconstitutional to the extent due process is not provided.”
See the Powerpoint here.
I would like to know how many citations in, not only Palm Coast. but other Counties in Florida are out of State drivers and tourists. How many go unpaid. I have mixed feelings on these cameras: On the one hand they can save lives but on the other side of the coin the larger revenue is diverted to the State and split w/ATS and the City, which has costs associated w/Hearing cases. I also observed that when the cameras were first instituted in Palm Coast the traffic lights changed too fast erroneously before being fine tuned.
Johnny Taxpayer says
Netts said. “Not interested in making a profit”- This statement is laughable. He may not be interested in a “profit” now, but he had no problem with the millions in profit Palm Coast made (I would argue illegally) off the cameras prior to the state law change. Money I still maintain will end up being paid back in settlements, as the South Florida ruling does not directly affect actions against Palm Coast.
“The numbers provided by Landon’s administration themselves (based on sheriff’s office data) make the point that there is no co-relation between traffic cameras and reduced crashes.”- This has been my argument since day 1. The city and ATS justified installing the cameras based on a study that showed where they would write the most citations (i.e. make the most profit) rather than conducting any type of study that a) would identify whether or not we even had a “deadly intersection problem” that was being caused by constant red light runners, and then providing any type of evidence that if this problem actually exists (which it likely doesn’t) that red light cameras would help reduce crashes. On the contrary plenty of studies actually show an increase in traffic crashes at red light camera intersections due to people slamming brakes where they normally wouldn’t to avoid the ticket. (most of these studies are underwritten by groups opposing red light cameras, however). 4+ years later we still have zero evidence that these cameras have done anything to make the intersections safer.
Final thought, even though I mostly agree with the Author’s thesis, I do take issue with this statement.
“The money Tempe, Ariz.-based ATS makes is entirely taken out of the community and the state.”- Not exactly true, I see ATS employees driving ATS trucks all over Central Florida. Those employees, I assume, live here and spend their pay checks here, not to mention the ATS infrastructure in place to support them here, trucks run on locally purchased fuel, tires, oil changes etc… That’s like saying Toyota plant in KY only provides economic benefit to Japan.
This is one time that I agree with you. Although I wouldn’t put any stock in anything Jim Landon says.
The driver here is that the city is stepping and fetching to find money, no matter how small and no matter who pays ( the citizen always pays). I will say it once again there is one too many governments in this county.
i cant believe palm coast falls for the bs…wait. yes i can too…14 lousy percent…the city is worse off than i thought. the red light company is getting rich on the working people of palm coast. disgusting!!
Nancy N. says
Hey city council…facts are such inconvenient little things, aren’t they?
Honestly, I don’t understand what is in this for the council. The cameras aren’t making money for the city. They are INSANELY unpopular in the city so they aren’t getting political points keeping the cameras. The statistics don’t show any safety benefit whatsoever.
It really begs the question…what is really going on here? Because on the face of it, there is NO logical reason that they should be keeping these cameras. They seem to be working really hard to create one in the face of a pile of evidence to the contrary. Which doesn’t smell right…there is a ton of money at stake here for ATS. What lengths will they go to to keep the contract?
I say we need more Drones flying over Palm Coast taking pictures of all the Croatians running around with nothing but Russian Beaver hats on !
Don Damian Ret. ESS 10 says
Hay clint Palm Coast would love to use Drones if they could figure out hou to lose money .
John Boy says
Follow the money, American Traffic is owns by Goldman Sachs. If GS is getting 86% of the money, I’ll bet there is plenty of “Kickbacks” being made to local officials. GS sees that simply as a cost of doing business and the local officials see it as a source of untaxed income. No oficial would accept such a “split” unless they where being compensated accordingly.GS is pulling this same scam in hundreds of cities across the country and laughing all the way to the Swiss and Cayman Island Banks.
There is more idiots drivers not respecting stop light. Cameras must stay in place with more of them.
Cameras cause rear end collisions. Driving thru Palm Coast intersections is a very nerve wracking experience. You almost have to stop on yellow to avoid a ticket!
Things have change since Rick Scott (I believe) decided to keep the largest income from violations for the state. Where that, our money, goes to benefit and whom, we don’t know.
Before, the cameras, were a source of decent income for the City, now is not with that meager 14%, as a matter of fact becomes a burden when contested fines go to court and city has to spend, on legal counsel to defend, more than the generated 14% income. Now we have a total different story and a costly one to us all. Then as a city resident and as a tax payer I ask our city officials to do away with the cameras and hopefully with a new sheriff elected, we will get the traffic monitoring we need in Palm Coast as that is not currently served, while we are all paying in advance for it. Palm Coast Parkway becomes a speedway after 9 PM from Friday, thru Sunday, specially East of 95. We have some bully motorcyclists speeding along the streets that lead to Clubhouse Drive among residential homes streets, where little children walk alone or with their dogs or ride their bikes. Not a cop seeing in the horizon as most are top brass at over 70,000/year and exempted to do deputies assignments. Welcome to Palm Coast, Flagler County the land of the overtaxed and disserved. I love Palm Coast, do not take me wrong, as this is the reason why I rant.
Like a salmon swimming upstream here… best rationale posted: “I want to make sure that $700 per camera per month covers our staff time, Netts said. “Not interested in making a profit”
If these cameras saved just one of these nay-sayers lives…I think Mr/Ms nay-sayer’s tune would change pretty darn fast.
Johnny Taxpayer says
If you can prove that cameras actually save lives, I think a lot of people would probably change their minds. The problem, however, is no such proof exists.
James C. Walker says
1) The state rakes $83 or 52.5% of the take off the top, so it is clear why the Florida Department of Transportation changed the rules in 2011 to encourage cities to set yellow intervals too short for the ACTUAL approach speeds of vehicles, so the numbers of tickets remains very high with most tickets issued to safe drivers in the first few tenths of a second of red, drivers that will clear the intersection before cross traffic can arrive so they present zero crash risks.
2) If cities added one second to the yellows to increase the safety of drivers stopping for the lights (MUCH lower rear end crash risks), the rate of violations would drop so far (60% to 90%) that most cameras would be removed.
3) ATS and other camera vendors are after the MONEY and they require improper engineering of the traffic lights to make more MONEY. Safety plays no part whatever in their business plans and they are quite willing to have higher accident rates at camera intersections as long as the MONEY rolls in.
See our website for the science of using safer, longer yellows to minimize violations and maximize safety. Unfortunately safety is not profitable so look for Florida cities to continue using the predatory cameras until they are banned statewide. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI
Ben Dover says
The other thing Palm Coast does with the lights to generate income is ,they have them rigged so if doing the actual speed limit posted, you will get stuck at each and every light along Palm Coast Pky, and they increased then length of time you sit at them , they want you to say , screw it not waiting thru another one and run it cha ching, . what this has actually done is caused more people to speed , because if you drive 50mph on Palm Coast Pky you can make every light. the other issue with getting stuck at each and every light is, it burns up a huge amount of our fuel, stop and go, and idling at a stop are the two best ways to waste fuel, not to mention brake pads. So either way you look at it, they are costing you money and time, the lights are nothing but a cash cow.
PC Resident says
Thanks for the information, it only confirmed what I felt from the beginning of the installation of these cameras. Has anyone ever just taken a drive from one end of BelleTerre to the other end, or PC Parkway? It is IMPOSSIBLE to hit a sequence of green lights, you WILL have to stop at every light. And as James mentioned, the cycle of the yellow light is a quick blink an nearly impossible to stop at a normal approach speed. Totally makes sense now, they are not after safety……
Well said !!
Another thing people don’t know is that is if your front tire even touches the white line at the intersection, it is the same as running right through it in the eyes of the law. I bet the cameras are set up to trigger on 100% of the cars that touch it.
That just goes to show what an “idiot” our Mayor is. “Not interested in making a profit” He thinks that all the residents under his command believe this. Truth being the cameras take a picture of the “vehicle” that ran the light. They can not identify the driver. My advice is to anyone that receives one of these citations; don’t pay the fine. Take it to court, court costs will eventually take up more $ than the 14% the city is getting and these red light cameras will come down real fast. The simplest answer is add 1 second to the yellow light time span, and have the new sheriff hold a seminar with all his deputies on how to write a traffic ticket.
Magicone, it’s too bad that you tarnish an otherwise valid and provocative argument with name calling, particularly the sort of name-calling you choose. We don’t edit that sort of attacks on politicians, being the public figures they are, and name calling of politicians being one of the freedoms and pleasures of a democracy. But if there’s one local politician who could never in a lifetime fit that description, it’s Netts.
Couple questions re National Motorists Association:
“Other NMA efforts”
In cooperation with GetMADD.com, the NMA offered a $20,000 reward to anyone who could substantiate the NHTSA and MADD’s statistics on impaired-driver fatalities.
—–what NHTSA and MADD’s statistics on impaired-driver fatalities….does NMA believe are unsubstantiated?
The NMA operates a speedtrap registry and a roadblock registry where people can post the locations of known speed traps and road blocks.
—– throwing up NMA “roadblock” of law enforcement activities?
James C. Walker says
NHTSA and MADD figures on “alcohol-related” fatalities tend to be grossly inflated, just as their numbers are on “speed-related”. There is a huge difference between possibly-related and caused. No one wants to share the road with drivers that are too impaired to drive properly, least of all NMA members. But if NHTSA and MADD get their way in the long run, it will be illegal to drive after one drink with dinner. We think that is wrong.
We DO have a Speedtrap Registry where people can report common speed traps run for revenue. It isn’t rocket science to figure out that when posted limits are set 10 to 15 mph below the safety-optimum 85th percentile speeds that many of those areas become the speed trap fishing holes and sweet spots for governments to run for profits. I helped get speed limits corrected on two speed trap areas in Ann Arbor near my home that were heavily worked for decades. The accident rate went down and I have not seen an Ann Arbor officer running speed enforcement there since April of 2008.
We DO have a Roadblock Registry. People can read why at: http://www.motorists.org/roadblocks/position If you ever lived or worked in a country where the “papers please” philosophy of government control was the rule, as I have in Russia, you might well think differently.
James C. Walker, NMA
Uggh, I hate those cameras! They do nothing but cause people to slam on their brakes when the light turns yellow. It is unfair that tickets must be so high for such silly offenses…if Palm Coast made money off them I would understand…but seriously guys…
And it might make sense if the money they made was used for sidewalks in the developments for the school kids walking to the bus stops!
Flagler Native says
Thanks City of Palm Coast for making others rich off your residents!
Maybe if the city was making a better profit they could finally add some much needed safety features around the town, but then again that would make too much sense, greedy bums.
And to all my neighbors in “Seminole Hoods” maybe just maybe someday we’ll get lights and sidewalks.
Once again our badly managed city is ruled by people who have no idea about these cameras. You add the delay the red light runners have less accidents. The lighst are not good for our quality of life because you have times you are stuck behind a slow mover then you are paying that fine and find yourself russing through the intersection.
Landon is looking for revenues at all cost. Our Mayor has no ideas of his own so he just agrees with Landon now how sad. This contiues to be a sad place to live.
I’m waiting for those changes in the city council that will repeal the likes of bad management.
Thanks for the cameras guys you all are just the best………………………………best at bad management!!!!
I saw 6 spandex people on their 2 wheel peddle machines running right threw a red light on Palm Coast Parkway a few weeks ago. Do the camera’s take pictures of spandex people too ?
Very confusing… are the numbers really 14% City – 86% ATS [above analysis] or another analysis [below] that says 29% City – 18% ATS:
Under the initial 60-40 split with the average gross monthly revenue of $24,171, the city would have netted $4,584 (19%); ATS’ portion would have been $6,877 (28%); and the state would receive $12,740 (53%).
The new breakdown, however, increases the city’s net to $7,000 (29%). ATS decreases slightly, to $4,431 (18%), and the state remains the same.
The city’s annual projected proceeds under the proposed formula are $48,000 — all of which is dedicated to the city’s streets improvement fund.
Also program would seem to be quite successful in Palm Coasters ‘getting it’ : “Stop Running Red Lights”…endangering your & others lives:
Also wonder, maybe missed if this was competitively bid…then & now?
In either case, still strongly believe as long as we minimally break even…
just do it…the life you save may be your own.
James C. Walker says
It looks like the program reduced violations by 68% in four years.
Adding one second to the yellow intervals would almost certainly have achieved that result in one or two days, without the need to pick the pockets of 2,654 citizens and visitors.
Unfortunately, timing traffic lights for maximum safety and minimum violations is not profitable. The same is true for setting posted speed limits at the 85th percentile speed to achieve the greatest safety, the smoothest traffic flow and the fewest accidents – it isn’t profitable so not many governments do it.
James C. Walker, NMA
Flaglerlive, you are right. Our Mayor is not an idiot, I’m sorry; he is just a person who makes idiotic statements
I agree with Clint lmao