NJ City Collects Over $1Million in 3 Months From Red Light Cameras

by Khaleef Crumbley on December 10, 2010

in Economics,Government

Traffic Camera

The Cure for a Deficit

According to a report on NJ.com, the city of Linden, NJ has earned over $800,000 in the last 3 months from their newly installed red light cameras! This has come from mailing out almost 20,000 tickets (the city only has about 40,000 residents).

And get this, this is based on only three red light cameras!! According to the report:

The cameras were approved by the state for three intersections: two of the three intersections are on Routes 1 & 9 and the third intersection is the corner of Route 27 and Stiles Street. Fines are $140 for tickets on Routes 1 & 9, a state-designated “safe corridor.” At the Route 27 intersection, the penalty is $85.

Those are some pretty expensive tickets! I’m glad that I don’t drive through Linden as much as I used to! The total amount paid out in fines by the drivers is much more than the $800k that the city received:

That’s because $11.50 goes to the state for each ticket, and 10 percent of the remaining amount goes to camera company American Traffic Solutions, which reviews video and still photos of red light infractions and sends them to Linden police for review.

So they actually collected well over $1million from the tickets, and made over $800,000 after paying the State and ATS!

Money or Safety – What’s the True Goal?

It makes me wonder if the primary goal of these red light cameras is income or safety. Linden (along with many other cities in the country), has had recent financial trouble, and this new-found income is right on time:

The city raised taxes by almost 14 percent last year due to declining state aid and rising pension and debt service costs.

“I can tell you the revenues have been coming in pretty good,” said Christine Figueiredo, of the Linden treasurer’s office. “It’s very exciting.”

I’m sure that many people will claim that this is purely about safety, and the income is just a nice side-effect. Of course, that’s the same line that the state police tries to sell whenever questioned about their officers hiding on the freeway hoping to catch a speeder!

Here is the expected response from the city:

Sgt. Michael Babulski said that since the cameras have been up at three of the city’s busiest intersections, only one accident has taken place.

“That’s unbelievable for us to have only one accident on the intersections with cameras,” Babulski said. “It seems like it’s drastically changing people’s behavior, and the intersections are becoming safer.”

I’m not sure how many accidents occurred during a typical 3-month period before the cameras were installed; but I do know that having only one accident at two intersections on 1 & 9 and Stiles & 27 is amazing!

I can’t wait to see what the next 3-month period looks like. I’m sure that the amount of tickets will drop since more people know about the cameras and will probably change their behavior accordingly. I guess the city might have to look into buying gold as an investment when that happens!

Well, this demonstrates the simple truth that money is a great motivator (even more than the law or the fear of accidents)!

Reader Questions:

  1. Do you feel as though cities install cameras in order to promote safety, increase revenue, or both?

  2. How do you feel about cops hiding on highways, salivating at the thought of “catching” a speeder?

  3. Wouldn’t the more effective approach (for safety) be to ride alongside the cars in plain sight? People always slow down when they see a cop car!

  4. Since most of the people who drive on city streets and thus, receive tickets, are local, does this equate to a tax on the citizens?

photo by Adrian Short

© 2010, Khaleef Crumbley. All rights reserved.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chloe@Paris Sightseeing Tour

i don’t think it’s wrong for a city to implement projects that generate revenue. it’s for the city’s (and the people of that city’s) good, that is, if the city is straight ahead and legit with no one pilfering profits. cameras can oftentimes be a safety measure, as well, but at the same time and depending on its location, it can be a safety hazard. as long as they’re no “tricks” for example, in sneaky placement that causes some drivers to suddenly break because a camera is nearly hidden around a turn and the speed limit has just been lowered at that point. the best rule of thumb is based on good intentions. if that is the key focus, it’s a win-win situaiton.

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2 Jim Smith - UHNW

I think cameras started off as safety and became all about the revenue. The state of Victoria has them everywhere and you get fined for being even a couple of miles per hour over the limit (hundreds of dollars).

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3 Khaleef Crumbley

Yeah, I think that the police departments have demonstrated that safety is not their primary concern – at least when it comes to traffic violations!

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4 Ryan@TheFinancialStudent

I’m willing to bet that a large majority of those tickets are from people who went through a yellow just a fraction of a second too late, not people dangerously running actual red lights.

I’m not 100% against red light cameras, but I think they’re put up for the wrong reasons pretty often. There were also cases of cities (illegally) shortening the length of yellow in order to gather more revenue.

I am against speed limits on our high ways and on many roads though. Studies have shown that people will drive at the speed they’re comfortable with regardless of the limit. If it’s a nice sunny day and traffic is non-existent, who’s to say that me driving 85 is unsafe? I can be reckless at 30mph just the same as I can as 85.

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5 Khaleef Crumbley

I wouldn’t put it past most cities to shorten the yellow lights! I don’t like speed limits either…but I think we are in the minority with that one.

I will say that the force of impact increases exponentially with the speed you are traveling. So, you may not be more prone to get into an accident, but you are more prone to die at the higher speeds. However, I believe that speed limits are mostly about money as well.

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6 Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey

That’s truly amazing that they have given out 20,000 tickets for a town of 40,000 people! wild! I think they are doing it more for the money. Seems to be working for them too!

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7 Khaleef Crumbley

I hope that the income drops tremendously as the people get used to the cameras being there.

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8 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Traffic light cameras are quite common in my neck of the woods, but what’s been happening is that revenues drop dramatically after a while. Once people know that an intersection is equipped, activity plummets. I’ve also heard tell that the number of rear end hits has increased as people slam on their brakes to avoid going through a yellow light. If that’s true, we’re trading one kind of accident for another.

In regard to question 1, safety or revenue, a few years ago I talked with a guy who sold camera equipment and the like to police depts around the country. He said the police were never interested until he showed them how it would bring in money. No surprise there, economics trump everything else in the human realm. Budget issues compound it.

On questions 2 & 3, I agree that plain sight cops will do more to promote safety than giving tickets. Everyone slows down when they see a cop, and that SHOULD be the ultimate purpose of traffic control, but we all know that money speaks louder.

ON #4–unequivocally, it’s a backdoor tax on the citizenry. Few people realize when they’re screaming for more law enforcement and or traffic control that what they’re really encouraging is a crackdown on themselves. As long as people continue to believe that enforcement if for other people, they’ll continue to demand more of it.

Ironically, what we need are more and more traffic tickets until the public have each been ticketed multiple times and begin to realize what’s really going on!

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9 Khaleef Crumbley

I expect the same thing to happen in Linden as well. I really hope that all drivers anticipate people braking up in front of them and keep the rear end accidents down.

It’s pretty sad that the police departments aren’t interested in the safety equipment until the see the dollar signs! As you know, the cops in Jersey are known for picking the prime hiding spots in order to catch people speeding on our highways!

I hope that eventually the citizens would wise up to what’s really going on; but seeing how they beg for more government regulation and intervention in private markets, I have little hope!

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10 CreditShout

When it comes to red light cameras I’m fairly skeptical because this is a slippery slope. In Baltimore they started out with red light cameras, and now they have automatic radar guns everywhere that can take picture of you speeding and send you a ticket. So instead of watching the road you are constantly trying to make sure you aren’t going 5 mph over the speed limit.

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11 Khaleef Crumbley

I agree with your skepticism! Things like this usually lead to more and more oversight until it gets way out of hand.

Let’s hope that the income from this diminishes drastically, so they don’t decide to expand this!

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12 retirebyforty

We have red light camera in Portland too. I like them because it discourage drivers from blowing through red lights. I heard they did not decrease the number of accidents that much though. The number of rear end collision goes up because of sudden brake. This is still much better than a T bone collision.
What I really hate is the speeding camera. :x

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13 Khaleef Crumbley

Hey Joe, I like the idea of “encouraging” people to obey the law, and punishing them when they don’t! I’m just convinced that this is just a by-product of a money-making project on the part of the city.

I can imagine the rear end accidents going up as well. Have you even been caught by one of those speeding cameras?

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14 LifeAndMyFinances

When I first heard about cameras being placed at intersections by the authorities, I really didn’t like it. It seems like we’re getting closer and closer to being watched by “Big Brother”, and that just gives me an eerie feeling.

I do enjoy the safety that these cameras promote though. It’s a tough call, but hopefully these cameras will prove to be effective without being intrusive.

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15 Khaleef Crumbley

Personally, I hate the idea of the cameras and even tracking people using EZ-Pass, when I consider the “big brother” aspect! The more we use technology to make our commute easier, the more information we share with the authorities!

I hope that they are effective in getting people to obey the law, and that they aren’t used for any other purposes once they fail to bring in significant income.

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16 David Leonhardt @SEO consultant

That is pretty incredible. To me, that is both a sign of some pretty poor driving and a cash-mad city admin. Maybe the funds can go toward a “What Part of Red Don’t You Understand” campaign.”

As for “It seems like it’s drastically changing people’s behavior, and the intersections are becoming safer.” … I look forward to a follow-up post in three months of how revenues are down to just $100,000. That is the true test of whether the cameras are increasing safety or vacuuming consumers’ pockets.

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17 Khaleef Crumbley

I think you are right. If it’s really about safety, then the revenue should drop by a drastic measure!

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