Lights, Cameras–No Action
By Lynn Lieu
With an overwhelmingly negative reaction to red-light cameras and their associated tickets and fines, Loma Linda is finally doing what some said should have been done a long time ago: The city’s pulling the plug on the abhorred camera program.
Loma Linda became a camera town in 2004 when it signed a contract with RedFlex Traffic Systems. That contract is set to expire in December. After much debate, the City Council voted to part ways with RedFlex, partly because of a lack of revenue the tickets were generating for municipal coffers—and partly because of complaints from the citizenry.
Basically, to hear an elected official tell it, the cameras didn’t do what they were supposed to do and they were a money loser.
“ . . . Our council has voted not to renew [the contract],” Mayor Dusty Rigsby tells the Weekly. “The red-light cameras produced no improvement in [reducing] accident rates and drained massive amounts of money out of our community . . . Out of $14 million in citations [that were] issued, the City has only netted about $200,000 and currently loses about $70,000 per year on the deal.”
The end of red-light cameras in Loma Linda also marks an end to the frustration felt by many residents who frequent the camera-installed installations.
“The fines for what you have to pay are very high and the city has no control over what you have to pay,” says City Manager Jarb Thaipejr. “We have a lot of people upset over that.”
Along with the high fees, there were allegations that the yellow signal lights were too short, which meant that cars passing through the intersections in question were unfairly being ticketed.
According to the editor of highwayrobbery.net, a website devoted to monitoring the red-light camera issue, Loma Linda was one of the many camera towns that were allegedly guilty of this type of unfair ticketing.
Last year, Loma Linda extended the length of their yellow signal lights—to some, a confirmation that the duration of the yellows was a bit too short.
But city officials maintain that the yellow lights have always met state regulations.
“All of the yellow lights in town prior to November 2009 were set at the state-mandated minimum durations,” Rigsby says. “In November 2009, we lengthened all of the yellows at the camera-controlled intersections by one second each, so they became one second longer than the minimum allowable . . . The longer yellow lights resulted in a 90 percent reduction in straight-ahead and left-turn red-light violations.”
Thaipjr also states that the lights have never been short.
“We just now exceed the minimum time as required by the state. Every intersection is different depending on the speed limit,” he says.
Well, then why change them?
“We increased the time because a lot of people complained,” Thaipejr concedes.
Thought it appears the downside to slightly longer yellow signal lights is that this results in less potential revenue from citations.
“Longer yellow lights have predictably better outcomes on the safety front than do red-light cameras,” Rigsby says. “Studies of red-light camera installations, comparing them with similar intersections both before and after, show results trending toward an increase in accident rates.”
However, the tactic doesn’t appear to be popular among other cities.
“My discussions of Loma Linda’s experience with other [Inland Empire] mayors have produced little interest in lengthening yellow lights because revenue might be impacted.”
Despite whether or not longer yellow lights are more effective, the city believes the red-light cameras were of little benefit to Loma Linda. While red-light cameras may bring in revenue for some cities, Loma Linda’s program did not. In the end, the cameras just caused frustration to City Hall and local residents.
“In my opinion, cities that install red-light cameras are taking advantage of their populace by imposing a very low-efficiency fundraiser that wreaks financial havoc while producing little or no safety benefit,” Rigsby says. “If they are truly more concerned about safety than fundraising, they should lengthen their yellow lights and keep their hands out of the citizens’ pocketbooks.”