Northeast Times

Seeing Red

— With pen­al­ties about to hit the new­est red-light run­ners where it really hurts, rev­en­ue and safety at busy in­ter­sec­tions are in the lime­light.

Traffic-light cam­er­as in­stalled on the Bustleton Ave. and By­berry Rd. in­ter­sec­tion, Monday, Au­gust 8, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

All along, pub­lic of­fi­cials re­spons­ible for Phil­adelphia’s red-light cam­era pro­gram have in­sisted that road­way safety is the sole mo­tiv­a­tion for the ini­ti­at­ive that has gen­er­ated more than $55 mil­lion in rev­en­ue since 2005.

It’s not about the money, they say.

But with the re­cent in­stall­a­tion of new cam­er­as at three North­east in­ter­sec­tions — rais­ing the city­wide total to 24 — as well as the re­lease of the Phil­adelphia Park­ing Au­thor­ity’s latest an­nu­al red-light cam­era re­port, one fin­an­cial real­ity has be­come clear: The pro­gram must keep grow­ing if it’s to re­main self-suf­fi­cient.

Ac­cord­ingly, the PPA’s in­tent is “to grow [the pro­gram] where needed” in­def­in­itely, said Vince Fen­erty, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the PPA, the state-con­trolled non-profit agency that ad­min­is­ters the pro­gram.

That plan hit a speed bump in the PPA’s fisc­al year 2012, which ended last March 31. An­nu­al rev­en­ues and profits de­clined for the first time in the pro­gram’s sev­en-year his­tory. Total rev­en­ue was about $10.1 mil­lion, down from the pre­vi­ous year’s $13.7 mil­lion.

A de­cline in net in­come was even more dra­mat­ic, from $7.6 mil­lion in fisc­al 2011 to just $2.9 mil­lion in 2012. Un­der state law, all net profits from the pro­gram pay for in­ter­sec­tion-im­prove­ment pro­jects throughout the state.

“The whole pro­gram still pays for it­self over­all and we be­lieve it will con­tin­ue to be that way for a very long time,” said Fen­erty, who cited two primary reas­ons for the fin­an­cial swoon.

The PPA brought only two new in­ter­sec­tions on­line in fisc­al 2012, both near the end of the 12-month peri­od, thereby min­im­iz­ing their im­pact on the an­nu­al ac­count­ing. Mean­while, the volume of vi­ol­a­tions and fines is­sued at the pro­gram’s 19 pre-ex­ist­ing in­ter­sec­tions de­clined in keep­ing with a stat­ist­ic­al pat­tern ob­served since the in­stall­a­tion of the city’s first red-light cam­er­as.

“When rev­en­ue dropped, it was partly be­cause people wer­en’t run­ning red lights as much [at cam­era in­ter­sec­tions] and be­cause the new in­ter­sec­tions didn’t come on­line,” Fen­erty said.

Of­fi­cially, the pro­gram is called Auto­mated Red Light En­force­ment (ARLE). It has a simple premise.

The PPA con­tract­or rigs cam­er­as at se­lec­ted in­ter­sec­tions to pho­to­graph mo­tor­ists who run red lights. Vi­ol­at­ors are fined $100 for each of­fense.

Sensors trig­ger the cam­er­as, which re­quire no on-site po­lice pres­ence, al­though po­lice must re­view the pho­tos and sign off on all vi­ol­a­tions is­sued. The cam­er­as fo­cus on li­cense plates and do not pho­to­graph vehicle oc­cu­pants. So, when vi­ol­a­tions oc­cur, re­gistered vehicle own­ers get the tick­ets, re­gard­less of who was driv­ing.

Vi­ol­at­ors are sub­ject only to fines and no oth­er sanc­tions such as points on their drivers’ li­censes.

Based on the pro­gram’s de­clared rev­en­ues since 2005, au­thor­it­ies have is­sued more than 550,000 tick­ets, al­though there was about $10 mil­lion in un­paid tick­ets as of March 31.

North­east Phil­adelphia was Ground Zero for the in­tro­duc­tion of the red-light cam­era pro­gram in 2005 and has be­come the fo­cal point once again with the re­cent in­clu­sion of three loc­al in­ter­sec­tions. Among the 24 act­ive ARLE in­ter­sec­tions, 11 are in the North­east. Sev­en of those are along Roosevelt Boulevard, the 12-lane, sur­face-level U.S. high­way re­puted to be one of the na­tion’s most dan­ger­ous roads.

Last month, the PPA turned on cam­er­as at Bustleton Av­en­ue and By­berry Road, Grant Av­en­ue and Academy Road, and Knights and Wood­haven roads. In ac­cord­ance with the pro­gram’s stand­ard 60-day grace peri­od for newly in­stalled cam­er­as, vi­ol­at­ors at those loc­a­tions will re­ceive warn­ings in the mail in­stead of fines un­til Dec. 19, when full en­force­ment will be­gin, Fen­erty said.

Mean­while, vi­ol­a­tions and fines con­tin­ue to pile up at the 21 oth­er in­ter­sec­tions, as do the pro­gram’s costs.

Amer­ic­an Traffic Solu­tions (ATS) of Tempe, Ar­iz., is the PPA’s primary red-light con­tract­or. In fisc­al 2012, the PPA paid ATS about $4.6 mil­lion, 46 per­cent of the pro­gram’s gross rev­en­ue.

ATS sup­plies, in­stalls and main­tains the cam­er­as, col­lects the di­git­al im­ages and data, provides tech­nic­al sup­port and pro­cesses cita­tions is­sued to vi­ol­at­ors.

Un­der the terms of the con­tract, PPS pays ATS $4,495 per cam­era per month. There were 96 cam­er­as in use at the 21 in­ter­sec­tions doc­u­mented on the fisc­al 2012 re­port. One in­ter­sec­tion had just two cam­er­as, while oth­ers util­ized as many as six to cov­er mul­tiple lanes of traffic and dir­ec­tions of travel.

Next Feb­ru­ary, the per-cam­era fee will drop to $4,445. It will drop by an­oth­er $50 in Feb­ru­ary 2014. The cur­rent con­tract will ex­pire in Feb­ru­ary 2015. Ac­cord­ing to Fen­erty, ATS won the ini­tial con­tract in a com­pet­it­ive bid­ding pro­cess. Known as Mulvi­hill at the time, the com­pany beat one oth­er bid­der.

“They re­spon­ded to an RFP. They had the low­est pro­pos­al and the best product,” Fen­erty said.

ATS has been very act­ive polit­ic­ally, con­trib­ut­ing more than $405,000 in­to the cam­paigns of state and fed­er­al can­did­ates since 2006. Yet, the firm has made no dir­ect cor­por­ate con­tri­bu­tions to Pennsylvania le­gis­lat­ors in Har­ris­burg or to mu­ni­cip­al elec­ted of­fi­cials in Phil­adelphia, ac­cord­ing to Fen­erty.

However, ATS has hired two Pennsylvania-based lob­by­ists in re­cent years: Dav­id Ca­liguiri (2011) and Sean M. Re­illy (2003-04, 2007-10).

Dur­ing those years, Pennsylvania’s Gen­er­al As­sembly passed le­gis­la­tion that cre­ated Phil­adelphia’s red-light cam­era pro­gram and gran­ted the PPA au­thor­ity over it. The PPA also re­tains a lob­by­ist in Har­ris­burg, Fen­erty said, al­though no lob­by­ing activ­it­ies fig­ure in­to the red-light cam­era pro­gram’s ac­count­ing re­ports.

Fen­erty, who also is Re­pub­lic­an lead­er of Phil­adelphia’s 31st Ward, serves as PPA’s ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or at the dir­ec­tion of the agency’s board, the ma­jor­ity of which is ap­poin­ted by Pennsylvania’s gov­ernor.

North­east nat­ive Joseph T. Ash­dale, Dis­trict Coun­cil 21’s polit­ic­al dir­ect­or, chairs the board. Al Tauben­ber­ger, the pres­id­ent of the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce, is a mem­ber.

The PPA and ATS have a con­nec­tion out­side the con­text of their con­tract. Both are cli­ents of the Cen­ter City-based pub­lic re­la­tions agency, Ceisler Me­dia, as is the Na­tion­al Co­ali­tion for Safer Roads, a non-profit high­way safety ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion that re­ceives fund­ing from ATS.

Ceisler Me­dia prin­cip­al Larry Ceisler ex­plained that his firm rep­res­ents the PPA as its li­ais­on with Phil­adelphia-based news me­dia, while the firm serves ATS as its li­ais­on with news or­gan­iz­a­tions else­where in Pennsylvania.

Early this year, Pennsylvania law­makers passed le­gis­la­tion to en­able mu­ni­cip­al­it­ies out­side Phil­adelphia to im­ple­ment their own red light cam­era pro­grams for the first time. All 12 eli­gible com­munit­ies are in the Great­er Phil­adelphia re­gion, in­clud­ing eight in Mont­gomery County, three in Bucks County and one in Delaware County.

None of those com­munit­ies have in­stalled cam­er­as yet. The PPA would not be in­volved in any of those pro­grams. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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