The Menlo Park City Council opted Tuesday to not renew a contract with Redflex, a red light camera company, thereby ending the city's red light camera enforcement program. The city joins a growing number of jurisdictions that have decided to stop red light camera programs.
The city currently has red-light cameras installed at five intersections: westbound Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road; northbound El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue; southbound El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue; northbound El Camino Real and Glenwood Avenue; and westbound Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street, according to the report.
The city began its agreement with Redflex in 2013 and has renewed its contract twice, with its most current extension scheduled to end April 30.
In October, the council agreed to extend the contract for another six months to collect data and evaluate the effectiveness of the red light camera program. The extra time was also provided so the city could put out a request for proposals to see if other red light camera operators were interested in working with the city.
According to a staff report, an initial two-week period was provided, but other companies said that wasn't enough time to complete a request for proposals. The deadline was extended by another two weeks, but still, only Redflex submitted a proposal. Its proposal included a 25 percent decrease in monthly cost, down to $19,500 a month from the current $26,000.
Redflex was involved in a major bribery scandal at City Hall in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. The company came to Chicago in 2003 and earned $120 million through contracts to install 384 cameras, that resulted in more than $400 million in traffic fines, the Tribune reported.
In 2016, a former Chicago City Hall manager who oversaw contracts with the company was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after receiving vacations, up to $2,000 for each camera installed, and other lavish gifts from Redflex. In 2017, Redflex agreed to a $20 million settlement with the city of Chicago, the Tribune reported.
Redflex representative Ed Tiedje, director of U.S. Client Services for the company, told the council that the bribery scandal in Chicago took place six years ago, and since then, the company replaced the people who had been involved and had met rigorous compliance requirements.
According to traffic collision data cited in the report, the total number of traffic collisions has actually gone up at the intersections where the cameras are installed, with 23 collisions in 2013, when the cameras were installed, and 29 in 2018.
Menlo Park Police Chief Dave Bertini commented that these statistics don't necessarily provide the full picture of what type of collisions are increasing and which are decreasing.
The red light cameras do seem to have caused a decrease in T-bone collisions, while causing a "slight" increase in rear-end collisions, he said. T-bone collisions are far more dangerous and "have been the worst accidents I've ever seen," he said. But the breakdown in the type of collisions was not included in the report.
Motorists are more likely to be overly cautious about triggering the cameras at these intersections knowing that they risk a nearly $500 ticket, and may slam on their brakes rather than proceed through an intersection at a yellow light, more than one council member argued.
Most tickets – about 87 percent – are issued to people whose vehicles are registered outside of Menlo Park, the report stated, and the vast majority (about 95 percent) are one-time offenders. At the same time, net revenue from the red light camera program has declined in the last couple of years, earning the city only $24,000 in the 2017-18 fiscal year, compared to about $127,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said that she had hoped to to see a decline in tickets and collisions to indicate drivers' changing behaviors, though neither has happened – citations have consistently been given to about 0.02 percent of drivers.
"I'm sad these do not seem to have an impact on people's behavior. It makes me not in love with traffic cameras being there at all," she said.
The data also did not indicate whether the red light cameras were causing the increase in the rear-end collisions, or another factor was at play, like increased traffic, Mayor Ray Mueller pointed out.
Councilman Drew Combs also raised doubts about whether the cameras improved safety.
"There isn't any real causal correlation in those studies between increased safety and the presence of cameras," he said, adding that a nearly $500 ticket is "incredibly regressive" in some situations "where people are not quite clear what's happening...They're trying to be efficient to get across the intersection."
When Carlton asked about whether the fees were flexible, Police Commander William Dixon explained that the $480 red light ticket fee is set at the state and federal levels. The base fee is $100, but comes with an additional $380 in fees and taxes, while the city gets about $155 from every ticket, or about one-third of whatever a reduced fee may be.
Local state senator Jerry Hill has brought forward legislation multiple times to reduce the fees for right-turn-on-red traffic violations, but nothing has been passed yet, he added.