Red-light cameras generated $16M for Newark, $13M for traffic company

By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 12, 2015

Red light cameras in Newark generated more than $34 million in ticket revenue between 2010 and 2014, according to data provided by the city. The five-year-old pilot program expired on Dec. 16. Above is a June 2012 photo of a red light camera on McCarter Highway at Market Street in Newark.

 

NEWARK — Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Essex County legislators have been pushing for a renewal of New Jersey’s red light camera program on the grounds it reduces car crashes and promotes public safety.

But the cameras also have generated millions in fines paid to the city, the state and the company that maintained the devices.

Before the cameras went dark last month, Newark brought in more than $34 million in revenue from the nearly 400,000 tickets paid since the program began five years ago, nearly half of which landed in municipal coffers, according to data provided on Friday by the city.

Of those fines paid between 2010 and 2014, the city received about $16.2 million, or roughly $3.2 million on average each year, the data shows.

The remaining dollars included about $4.5 million in revenue for the state and roughly $13.3 million for Redflex Traffic Systems, the Phoenix-based company contracted to maintain the city’s cameras, the data shows.

Each ticket cost motorists $85 – with $34 going to Redflex, $11.50 to the state and $39.50 to Newark, city officials have said.

Between 2010 and 2014, the data shows a total of 392,551 tickets were paid, marking an annual average of about 78,510.

The revenue figures were provided in response to an Open Public Records Act request. The data shows revenue for 2010 through 2013, and the first 11 months of 2014.

For 2010 to 2013 – the times with a full year’s worth of data – the most annual ticket revenue came in 2013, when 96,518 tickets were paid, generating about $8.4 million in total revenue, the data shows.

While the cameras in Newark have been turned off, Redflex continues to face a series of legal battles.

The company’s former CEO was indicted in August on federal corruption charges, alleging she bribed a retired Chicago official in exchange for assistance with the company’s red light camera contracts in that city.

In a federal lawsuit, a fired company executive has claimed Redflex provided lavish gifts and bribes to government officials in 13 states, including New Jersey, to secure new contracts.

Until the five-year-old pilot program expired on Dec. 16, Newark accounted for 19 of the state’s 73 red light cameras – the most of any municipality in the program.

At a Dec. 5 press conference to promote the continuation of the program, Baraka argued the cameras had led to a reduction in car accidents.

That reduction frees up police resources to address more pertinent crime issues, and fines related to the red camera tickets could be a deterrent to drivers ignoring the traffic signals, Baraka said.

"If people are concerned about the money then we should do what we can to make sure they don't break the law," Baraka said at the press conference. "As we stated earlier we trying to get to zero, zero is where we want to be and the red light cameras help us get to zero."

But State Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), one of the program’s most ardent critics, said in a phone interview on Friday that studies have shown the cameras do not improve public safety.

As O’Scanlon put it, “it’s all about the money.”

Calling it a “horrific” deal for motorists, O’Scanlon said the program represented “government-sanctioned theft that enables municipalities to pay for services that they don’t have the guts to pay for with legitimately-raised funds.”

Referring to the revenue figures in Newark, O’Scanlon added: “It’s shocking that that much money has been stolen from the motorists of New Jersey.”

Asked for comment on the revenue figures and O’Scanlon’s criticism, Newark officials acknowledged the request, but did not provide any statements.

State legislators have introduced competing bills in regard to the red light camera program.

O’Scanlon and other detractors have sponsored legislation that would prohibit the future use of red light cameras in the state. Meanwhile, Essex County legislators have introduced a bill to allow municipalities to install red light cameras at approved intersections.

But legislators have indicated a renewal of the program is unlikely as long as Republican Gov. Chris Christie – a critic of the red light cameras – is in office.

While Christie is governor, O’Scanlon said, “I don’t believe we will have these programs back.”

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