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Privacy Crime Government The Almighty Buck Transportation

Speed Cameras In Chicago Earn $50M Less Than Expected 398

countach44 writes that (in the words of the below-linked article) "Chicagoans are costing the city tens of millions of dollars — through good behavior." The City of Chicago recently installed speed cameras near parks and schools as part of the "Children's Safety Zone Program," claiming a desire to decrease traffic-related incidents in those area. The city originally budgeted (with the help of the company providing the system) to have $90M worth of income from the cameras — of which only $40M is now expected. Furthermore, the city has not presented data on whether or not those areas have become safer.
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Speed Cameras In Chicago Earn $50M Less Than Expected

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @09:39AM (#48194757)
    Easy to solve - calibrate them to overestimate driver's speed. It is virtually impossible to challenge these, and many municipalities already do this with red light and speed cameras.

    Also, can we stop pretending these are about anything other than revenue generation?
    • by seven of five ( 578993 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @10:06AM (#48195017)
      The city of chicago has already been accused [chicagotribune.com] of doing this. Got any other bright ideas?
      • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @10:23AM (#48195155)
        You could also decrease speed limit to something unreasonable. For example, 15mph and issue tickets at 21mph.

        You can also hide a max speed sign behind something, like a bush, and install it in otherwise higher speed zone.

        You can also install speed trap on the down-slope road, where drivers would naturally speed up without any conscious input.

        You can also offer "early payment" discounts on tickets, where if you pay and plead guilty your fine reduced to the point of not worth the time fighting it.

        You can establish a ticket challenge procedure that would conflict with working hours, making it logistically difficult for people to challenge.

        You can intentionally mail tickets to old addresses, then rake up late fees and interest.

        Oh, all of these happened in one or another municipality at some point in time.
        • The construction zone that runs basically from Rockford into downtown is like 45 MPH the whole way, despite the road being two lanes and the construction nearly complete.

          I drove it last week and it was agonizing AND the State Police were actively pulling people over.

          I thought they could have set the limit to 55 MPH very reasonably; there were only a couple of places where I thought it realistically should have been 45 MPH.

    • Funny thing, they actually did very similar recently:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/... [washingtonpost.com]

      "It was a fraction of a second that no driver really noticed. But the difference between a 2.9 second yellow light and a 3.0 second yellow light meant about 77,000 tickets for Chicago motorists, and a $7.7 million windfall for the city’s coffers, according to the Chicago Tribune.:

      Also, a shoutout to anybody who's interested in doing open data in Chicago to fight systems like this with data crunching: http://ope [opengovhacknight.org]

    • GPS logs do a great job. An NMEA log showing time stamped location, position, speed, etc of the trip is pretty solid evidence in court. To further question the camera's data,, these are often included in upscale dashcams. GPS log is easly compaired to the video log where speed time distance between known landmarks such as crosswalks is solid evidence.

      A judge throwing out evidence to protect revenue risks a youtube and social media revolt when the video is posted online. Anti speed camera folks eat those

    • Also, can we stop pretending these are about anything other than revenue generation?

      This. Just the mere fact that they actually budgeted against the ticket revenue tells you everything you need to know.

      • by hduff ( 570443 )

        Also, can we stop pretending these are about anything other than revenue generation?

        This. Just the mere fact that they actually budgeted against the ticket revenue tells you everything you need to know.

        And that they have access to the revenue data but have no idea if the roads are safer.

    • by BUL2294 ( 1081735 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @12:09PM (#48196281)
      I live in Chicago... Read TFA--not red light cams, but SPEED CAMERAS!

      First off, because of state law, the speed cameras can only issue a ticket for going 6+ over the limit. So, 25 in a 20 school zone, or 35 in a 30 "near a park" zone is OK. Second, the 6-10 MPH over the limit is a $35 ticket. BFD. Only when you do 11+ over the limit (e.g. 41 in a 30), that's when it shoots up to $100. Finally, speed cameras are NOT allowed on Lake Shore Drive, Lower Wacker, and (obviously) Interstates.

      On top of that, because of state law, the city had to paint "SAFETY ... ZONE" on the street in each lane, along with putting up extra speed limit signs with "PHOTO ENFORCED", by every camera installation, on that street and on all intersecting streets...

  • This is good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @09:39AM (#48194765)

    It proves the cameras are working, and people are speeding less. What's the problem? In an ideal world, the cameras would never go off, and never issue a ticket.

    • Re:This is good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mikelieman ( 35628 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @09:43AM (#48194793) Homepage

      The point of the cameras was revenue, not traffic safety. They've failed at their intended goal, and I don't see evidence for attributing it to traffic safety. The only person who benefited is the vendor.

      And that's before the court challenges. Doesn't "Due Process" ensure that the accused can say, "That's faked, Photoshop. The network and servers are hacked, and PROVE THEY ARE SECURE."

      Ever seen a municipal vendor who could certify under penalty of perjury complete compliance with all applicable law, regulation and policy?

      • The point of the cameras was revenue, not traffic safety.

        Says the article...

        No one else has claimed that. They merely predicted that driving was bad enough that it would happen to bring a certain revenue. It turns out that driving is better than they thought, and now they're happy.

    • Re:This is good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @09:48AM (#48194855)

      It proves the cameras are working, and people are speeding less.

      No, it does not prove that. Another possible explanation is that people were never speeding much in the first place. They may have overestimated the potential revenue.

      • Third explanation: People are speeding just as much as before but are now slamming on their brakes when the light turns yellow potentially causing more rear-end collisions. There are a lot of explanation that don't involve "red light cameras worked as intended" so we shouldn't jump to that as the first and only explanation.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      >>>It proves the cameras are working, and people are speeding less.

      In before "why won't you think of the children!?".

      It does not. It may indicate that problem was overblown in the first place. Also since report focuses on revenue, and no accident rates (possibly because there is zero impact) we can conclude that these were always about revenue-generation.
    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      Depends on whether they're identified. In Boulder Colorado, I was nabbed by a speed camera. I know the area where I generated the infraction and there was no notice, no sign, no nothing other than a letter a few weeks later.

      [John]

      • by fhage ( 596871 )

        Depends on whether they're identified. In Boulder Colorado, I was nabbed by a speed camera. I know the area where I generated the infraction and there was no notice, no sign, no nothing other than a letter a few weeks later.

        [John]

        I also live in Boulder and know the City spends a lot of money on their speed and red light cameras. When ticketing by mail for speeding, Colorado law requires an enforcement officer operate the equipment, record each infraction and post a warning sign ahead of the trap that reads "Photo Radar Ahead". The officer puts the sign up on some random street sign (usually not the speed limit sign) and parks the van down the road. They document the road signage and camera placements. The signs are green, only po

    • Exactly. The fact that this is a problem for the City of Chicago actually points out that the cameras were never about safety, they have always been about money.

    • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

      I don't know how it works in Chicago land, but speeds are supposed to reflect the average speed of traffic on the road. The problem I have with automated enforcement is that it doesn't take into account that speed limits are well below where they should be on most streets. There's a highway near me that was designed for traffic to do 70mph but the road can't be signed for it because the state police won't sign off. So it sits at 55mph and everyone does 70mph anyway, and a few get ticketed each day. Same

  • by kaladorn ( 514293 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @09:43AM (#48194799) Homepage Journal
    The Ottawa Public Library is having a significant budgetary shortfall due to a reduction in late fees.

    The sad thing is that these entities have integrated punitive fines into their standard funding expectations and financial plans.

    I think that sort of thinking needs to be scorned. It is a poor way to manage an institution. You don't want your model to be 'well, we will depend on and be incentivized to encourage people to break the rules we claim we want them to follow'. It's a rather ethically laughable situation.
    • They created their own problem. By making it so easy to avoid late fees, they've made people pay less late fees. They send you an email to remind you before your books are late, and you can renew them online. Unless somebody has reserved a book you already had, or you've had a book out for 9 weeks, which I think is the limit on renewals, it's quite difficult to get dinged with a late fee. Plus you can drop your books off at any branch, and there are many small branches all over the city. So it's not hard
  • Whenver a speed camera gives a ticket it sucks money out of a community (sharing with arizona or wherever the company is that runs most of them).

    Yet the camera marketing companies keep spinning them as ways to provide money to cities.

    In reality, that only works for the rare city where most drivers are from out of town.

  • Furthermore, the city has not presented data on whether or not those areas have become safer.

    That's because they haven't, otherwise the city would be taking a victory lap. That's because gadget enforcement can't change human nature.

    We won't see any real safety improvements until we take human nature out of driving and turn it over to machines.

  • Is that they will now lower the speed limit. Eventually they'll get it low enough to hit their revenue goals - since that is what automated traffic devices are for anyway.
  • I mean, *if* you believe what they spout off all the time about the REASON for installing these cameras in the first place? Clearly it's about improving safety. Who in their right mind tries to project potential profits from implementing a safety measure?

    Think about it ....

  • Money collected as punishment for crimes should be destroyed either literally or as a bookkeeping entry, so nobody* benefits from its collection.

    Ditto punitive damages from civil suits.

    This would remove the financial incentive for governments to fine people and remove the financial incentive for plaintiffs to seek high punitive damages. The stated "justice/deterrence" purpose of fines and punitive damages would remain.

    *I'm ignoring the theoretical, negligible gain in the value of everyone else's dollars as

    • I'd argue that we should find something that helps people, but isn't "sexy" enough for politicians to use it for political gain. Something like libraries. Make all crime-punishment-fines go directly to library coffers. However, said money shouldn't be budgeted at all to prevent politicians from saying "We're expecting $X in fines so we can reduce the library's budget by $X and move that money to CAUSE Y."

      • Burning the money actually works reasonably well as an alternative. It reduces the money supply and therefore lowers inflation, resulting in a relative increase in the value of everyone's money. The counter argument is that rich people profit more, but generally if you have enough money lying around that the effect would be noticeable, you've invested most of it in things that have a much better return on investment than cash, so as a proportion of net worth if favours the people whose money is mostly mon
    • by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @11:54AM (#48196145)

      How about use it to fund public defenders? Those guys are always getting a raw deal (as are their clients), and it would create a bit of a stabilizing feedback loop. More fines means you need more defense lawyers, a win-win. Or have we given up on having a fair legal system?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    it will require a constitutional amendment

    1. no government entity (fees, fines, tolls, tariffs, settlements, and seizures) may use non-tax monies for any of its operating expenses
    2. all non-tax revenue are distributed evenly amongst the citizens of the collecting jurisdiction on an annual basis

    People who break the law or use limited government services still pay. People who don't break the law and don't use services are rewarded with an extra tax refund. And politicians can't be sneaky about the amount of

    • it will require a constitutional amendment

      1. no government entity (fees, fines, tolls, tariffs, settlements, and seizures) may use non-tax monies for any of its operating expenses
      2. all non-tax revenue are distributed evenly amongst the citizens of the collecting jurisdiction on an annual basis

      People who break the law or use limited government services still pay. People who don't break the law and don't use services are rewarded with an extra tax refund. And politicians can't be sneaky about the amount of money they spend since 100% of it will have to come directly from taxes.

      Of course this will never happen because of entrenched power and the 1% benefiting from the current system fleecing the general public.

      This. PLEASE! I've been saying it for years.

  • I know TFS says they haven't presented data... I wonder if they were collecting data at all.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @10:05AM (#48195001) Journal
    ... laughing all the way to the bank. All these companies that contract with municipalities add very careful clauses into their contract. Whether it is the incompetence of the city managers/lawyers/politicians or whether they are actively colluding with the companies is a matter of debate. But the side clauses will make people's blood boil when they come to know of them.

    Most likely the camera companies have minimum guarantee payments, will not let changes to traffic lights and timings that would reduce both accidents and fines etc. There was the fiasco with parking spaces, that makes it impossible for Chicago to create more parking spaces without paying the private company for their "loss of revenue". The private bridge owner of the bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Canada is suing to block the building of any new bridge. When turnpike operations are sold to such private companies, they have clauses preventing the improvement of alternative roads owned by the state or city that would divert traffic away from the turnpike.

    The great American rip-off is the private companies taking over tax funded infrastructure and then preventing improvements to alternatives, and extracting rent. I think the only way to stop them is to sue such companies for criminal conduct and bad faith and have the original contract declared null and void. Two bit politicians coming into office for a single two year term should not be able to burden all the citizens for eternity to such contracts.

  • Anyone considering the use of speed cameras for anything else than safety in high-risk areas is doing something wrong in my opinion. Just as much is it wrong to review their use by any other criterion.

    In this case, both the review (based on financial gains) and the expectation of revenue show me that they are doing all this for the wrong reason. And I find that really sad. How wrong can that morally be, to install speed camera based on expected revenue... that's quite a low. I'd rather have a totally unecon

    • Either they totally overestimated the speeding issue, or they underestimated the dissuasive effect of those cameras (which means they work actually pretty well... assuming they are correctly placed).

      In both cases, a data set of vehicle speed at the site in the year before and after the cameras were introduced would be very useful.

      Case 1: No change in traffic speed
      Case 2: Dramatic reduction in traffic speed

      Assuming they had that data set.

      Case 1: would be kept as quiet as possible because it means the came

      • by geogob ( 569250 )

        Case 2: would be shouted from the rooftops (from both the local authority and the company running the scheme)

        Unless safety was not the goal aimed for at all.

  • by jratcliffe ( 208809 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @10:12AM (#48195071)

    I'm a big fan of both red light and speed cameras, so long as it's clear that the goal, and the only goal, is to improve traffic safety by getting people to abide by speed limits* and obey traffic lights. The ideal scenario would be one in which the cameras generated zero revenue at all, because everybody was following the law.

    *I'll be the first to say that speed limits on highways are too low, I'm talking about areas where cars have to share the road with pedestrians and bicyclists.

    • It shouldn't be zero revenue because there would be no 'deterrance' which is their stated goal.

      However, the revenue should go into a different pot, like an annual donation to local charities that are not otherwise funded by the city.

      • I do think the goal should be zero revenue, since if everybody's following the speed limit and not running red lights, then there's no revenue (i.e. the deterrence has been successful).

        I agree on the "different pot." At the very least, the companies that provide the cameras shouldn't be compensated on a revenue share arrangement - it creates all the wrong incentives. I can see why cities go for it ("We get the cameras, but don't have to pay for them out of pocket? Great!"), but that's no excuse.

  • by offrdbandit ( 1331649 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @10:14AM (#48195081)
    Clearly these aren't manufactured by the same company that makes Chicago's voting machines.
  • Is it that hard to put in a requirement that

    1) Do the installation in phases

    2) Only move on to Phase 2 if Phase 1 works without any problems, as expected.

    3) Require third party testing to be sure that Phase 1 is done fairly

  • A Cochrane meta-analysis of red-light camera studies concludes:

    Red-light cameras are effective in reducing total casualty crashes. The evidence is less conclusive on total collisions, specific casualty
    collision types and violations, where reductions achieved could be explained by the play of chance. Most evaluations did not adjust for
    RTM or spillover, affecting their accuracy. Larger and better controlled studies are needed

    http://www.thecochranelibrary.... [thecochranelibrary.com]

    • by starless ( 60879 )

      And a Cochrane review of speed cameras concludes:

      The quality of the included studies in this review was judged as being of overall moderate quality at best, however, the consistency of reported positive reductions in speed and crash results across all studies show that speed cameras are a worthwhile intervention for reducing the number of road traffic injuries and deaths. To affirm this finding, higher quality studies, using well designed controlled trials where possible, and studies conducted over adequate

  • http://www.chicagotribune.com/... [chicagotribune.com]

    Thousands of Chicago drivers have been tagged with $100 red light fines they did not deserve, targeted by robotic cameras during a series of sudden spikes in tickets that city officials say they cannot explain, a Tribune investigation has found.

    The Tribune's analysis of more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007 and a deeper probe of individual cases revealed clear evidence that the deviations in Chicago's network of 380 cameras were caused by faulty equipment, human tink

  • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjcNO@SPAMcarpanet.net> on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @11:00AM (#48195601) Homepage

    I really do think Budgeting is one of the places that one has to be the most careful about creating perverse incentives.

    Frankly, cities should not be using fines in budgeting, but rather, should have a designated fund for ALL fines and fees to go into, which should simply be added to next years base tax income or, used to offset an entirely unrelated portion of the budget to the fine.

    In this way, while there may be a sort of general incentive to increase general revenue, but the one thing you don't want, is the budget of any department with any control over either enforcement or policy making seeing any direct effect on his budget from the making or enforcing of the policy.

  • by paulpach ( 798828 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2014 @12:07PM (#48196261)

    Here, fixed it for you:

    "Speed Cameras In Chicago confiscate $50M Less Than Expected"

    The cameras don't earn anything, as they don't produce anything of value. They are simply taxing devices, yet another way to confiscate money from drivers, and justified with an unproven "keep your children safe" blanket

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