Red light cameras: A Q&A about Collier County's stop-and-go issue

Should Collier County citizens get to vote on red light cameras?

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The Collier County Commission meets beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers at the county government complex, corner of Airport-Pulling Road and U.S. 41 East.

— After operating in relative obscurity — at least to those who don't violate the law — red light cameras are in the news again.

Earlier this month, Collier County commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a 10-year contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Arizona-based company that has operated the cameras since April 2009. Commissioners Tom Henning and Georgia Hiller dissented.

Tuesday, commissioners are expected to discuss whether they want voters to decide if the red light cameras stay at several county intersections beyond the first year of the new contract. With the decision pending, the Daily News asked those involved with the camera program to explain how the system works and what the contract change means.

* * * * *

How does the process work from the time someone runs a red light until his or her case is resolved? How are the violations issued — straight from the company operating the cameras or are they reviewed by the Collier County Sheriff's Office before a citation is issued?

There are sensors on the road that activate the camera when a car goes through a red light, according to a video created by ATS, the company that handles the red light cameras under a contract with the county. The cameras shoot photos and a video, which are reviewed by ATS staff. The data is sent to the Collier County Sheriff's Office for a final review. Charles Territo, ATS vice president of communications, said ATS then issues the violation on behalf of the Sheriff's Office.

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How do you contest the violation?

Contesting the violation is similar to how a motorist would challenge a speeding ticket or a parking ticket, Territo said. The person has to go to court. However, only about 2 percent of motorists challenge the violations, Territo said.

"We send you a PIN number with your violation that allows you to log in with your computer and see the 12-second violation," he said.

* * * * *

What if someone else was driving my car when it ran a red light?

Under Florida law, the citation is issued to the owner of the vehicle. However, Territo said there is a mechanism in the violation that allows the owner of the vehicle to pass fault on to another person as the driver.

* * * * *

At which intersections are the cameras located?

Cameras are at 19 approaches to intersections in Collier County. According to the county's traffic operations' website, they are located at:

American Traffic Solutions field technician Israel Rodriguez installs new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

American Traffic Solutions field technician Israel Rodriguez installs new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

■ Westbound 111th Avenue at U.S. 41 North; northbound on Airport-Pulling Road at Davis Boulevard; northbound on Airport-Pulling Road at Immokalee Road; northbound on Airport-Pulling Road at Radio Road; northbound Airport-Pulling Road at Pine Ridge Road;

■ southbound Airport-Pulling Road at Pine Ridge Road; northbound on Collier Boulevard at Golden Gate Parkway; eastbound on Golden Gate Parkway at Collier Boulevard; eastbound on Immokalee Road at Airport-Pulling Road; eastbound on Immokalee Road at Livingston Road;

■ eastbound Pine Ridge Road at Airport-Pulling Road; westbound Pine Ridge Road at Airport-Pulling Road; eastbound on Pine Ridge Road at Livingston Road; westbound on Pine Ridge Road at Livingston Road; westbound on Pine Ridge Road/Seagate Drive at U.S. 41;

■ eastbound Seagate Drive at U.S. 41; westbound Vanderbilt Beach Road at U.S. 41; westbound Immokalee Road at Airport-Pulling Road; and eastbound Immokalee Road at U.S. 41.

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The Collier County Sheriff's Office said the cameras were necessary because running red lights was the No. 1 traffic complaint the agency was receiving. Since the cameras were installed a couple of years ago, have the complaints gone down?

Yes, Collier County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Karie Partington said.

Red-light camera sign

Red-light camera sign

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* * * * *

Did citizen complaints about red light runners go back up after the county agreed in June 2010 not to issue tickets for failing to stop while turning right on red?

No, Partington said.

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How are the intersections with cameras faring versus the intersections without cameras as far as accidents caused by red light runners? Is there a difference and, if not, are these cameras really a deterrent?

The Collier County Sheriff's Office does believe the red light cameras are a deterrent to red-light running, Partington said. According to data provided by the Sheriff's Office, total crashes at the intersections with the red light cameras decreased by 20.6 percent from June 1, 2009, to May 31, 2010, when compared with crashes in the same time period a year earlier. The intersection with the biggest improvement was U.S. 41 and Vanderbilt Beach Road, which saw a 55.9 percent decrease, or the difference of 19 crashes, in that time period.

* * * * *

How have the terms of the new contract between ATS and county government changed? For example, under the old contract, the county and ATS split the fines 50/50. Now it seems like ATS also will receive $28,500 a month.

Territo said the contract negotiations were initiated to resolve the outstanding balance owed by the county to ATS and to address the Collier Clerk of Court's concerns regarding payment going forward.

In 2010, then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which was named after a Bradenton man killed by red-light runner in 2003. The law fixed a legal problem for local governments: a court decision had concluded the community of Aventura didn't have the authority to collect camera fees under state law.

But the new law also gave the state a cut of the local government's revenue from the cameras and required local governments to pay vendors like ATS in lump sum payments, not per violation. The Clerk's Office contended that the previous contract between ATS and the county didn't comply with the Mark Wandall Act and, as a result, stopped paying ATS as of September 2010.

In this file photo, American Traffic Solutions field technician Israel Rodriguez installs new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

In this file photo, American Traffic Solutions field technician Israel Rodriguez installs new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples.

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Under the previous contract, ATS paid the county $8,250 monthly for the right to operate the program in Collier County and split the $158 fines with the state.

Under the new contract, the county will pay ATS $28,500 to operate the program monthly. The county will split the fines with the state, but it is anticipated that the revenue the county collects will cover the fees it owes ATS each month.

Commissioners also agreed to pay ATS the $522,545 owed since August 2010.

* * * * *

What happens if county government doesn't collect enough fines to cover the monthly administrative fee the county is paying to ATS?

Should the cameras not generate $28,500 worth of fines per month, Territo said, county taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for the remaining balance.

"There is a cost neutrality in the agreement where we are paid what the cameras generate," he said. "The taxpayers are not paying for these cameras."

* * * * *

When will the contract between ATS and the county be reviewed again?

The contract expires on Sept. 30, 2022, according to Territo, but the parties may review it as needed. The contract stipulates that, after one year, the agreement can be terminated by either party for convenience with 30 days' notice, according to Collier County Principal Project Manager Eugene Calvert.

American Traffic Solutions field technicians Israel Rodriguez and Jim Petruy install new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

American Traffic Solutions field technicians Israel Rodriguez and Jim Petruy install new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

* * * * *

Has the county been approached about putting the issues of cameras on the ballot, as Commissioner Jim Coletta suggested?

Coletta, who said he would like to know how people feel about red light cameras, will ask his fellow commissioners to approve the drafting of a resolution calling for a vote on the Aug. 14 primary election ballot.

John Lundin, who is running as a Democrat for the District 5 commission seat held by Coletta, has placed a public petition on the commission agenda to request that a "binding" referendum for or against the red light cameras be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Collier commissioners are to discuss the matter Tuesday.

Chief Deputy Supervisor of Elections Tim Durham said if the referendum doesn't force the Supervisor of Elections Office to add an additional page to the ballot, the cost is nominal.

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