March 28, 2007
Red light cameras fully enabled in Balcones Heights

The city-within-San Antonio of Balcones Heights, which installed red light cameras back in January, have now fully enabled those cameras, and have begun mailing citations to violators as of this past Sunday. The Express News has more on this:

The owner of the light-blue Geo, which ran a red light on Fredericksburg Road last week and buzzed within inches of a man walking across the street, has been warned.

So was the owner of the reddish Dodge sedan, which blew through a red light two nights later, going 59 mph. By the way, the posted speed limit on Fredericksburg Road is 40 mph.

In all, 469 warning letters were sent to owners of vehicles that busted red lights at four intersections in Balcones Heights over the first 27 days of a monthlong test of a new red-light camera system.

But on Sunday, at one minute after midnight, the warnings will cease. American Traffic Solutions of Phoenix, working with Balcones Heights police, will start mailing tickets demanding $148 for each violation.

If the Carona bill passes, that fine would have to be cut in half. Those of you who have carped about the lack of warning signs at Houston camera-enabled intersections should note the prominent sign at one of the Balcones intersections. That ought to satisfy the requirements of a separate bill, by Rep. Callegari.

The cameras were installed on Fredericksburg Road at Hillcrest Drive, Crossroads Boulevard and Balcones Heights Road and at the intersection of Babcock and Hillcrest.

American Traffic Solutions will use license plate numbers to find and mail tickets to the owners and pursue unpaid charges through civil courts.

Those cited have to prove they weren't driving -- by producing a name, stolen vehicle report or bill of sale -- or pay up or face getting reported to a credit agency. They also can appeal.

In Houston, you have another option (PDF):

If you were not driving the vehicle when the violation was committed, you may submit a DECLARATION OF NONLIABILITY. This form may be downloaded from or obtained from the Court. The form must be completed in its entirety and hand-delivered by the person to the Court prior to the Notice due date. This form CANNOT be mailed.

Back to the story:

American Traffic Solutions, which manages to collect 70 percent of fines levied in more than 100 cities, will get a $40 cut for each ticket in Balcones Heights. Based on violations there so far, and collection rates, the company could reap up to $177,000 a year and the city $479,000.

Balcones Heights City Council member and blogger Steve Walker, the main critic there of the cameras, brought up the collections issue in an op-ed piece he wrote:

One of my biggest roadblocks for voting to approve the proposal has always been the fact that the ticket issued is a civil violation and not a criminal offense. In other words since Balcones Heights police officers or any other peace officer don't write the citation, there is no mechanism in place to insure that the red-light runner pay the fine for the infraction.

When a certified peace officer issues a traffic violation, failure to pay may result in arrest, suspension of driver's license and may affect the driver's ability to retain insurance at a reasonable cost. None of that applies to the civil citation.

I would point out that there is no real due process to appeal the violation to a judge since it goes before a hearing officer to rule on guilt or innocence.

Since they base the citation on video tape of the automobile's license plate and not the driver of the vehicle, there is no reliable way to determine accurately who was driving the automobile.

The owner of the vehicle is the one ticketed. He or she receives a summons from ATS, headquartered in Arizona. ATS is also the vendor who installed the video equipment.

According to the five-year contract between the City and the vendor, ATS is responsible to process the citations, collect the traffic fines, and once the fine is paid, send the City a portion of the fine for the infraction. ATS retain $40 for each ticket collected since they own the video cameras.

Statistics coming out of Houston and other cities that are using the Red Light Cameras reveal that violators are not paying the fines. In Houston in the first four months of citations that should have netted $14 million dollars, less than 15 percent of those cited have paid the fine. What is wrong with this picture?

Well, to begin with, that 15% statistic is wrong, by a lot. Even the initial report of less-than-expected collections, cited before the deadline for payment, said 25% of ticketed folks paid up. I'll have to drop Council Member Walker a note about that.

James McMahon, a 30-year Army veteran and former New York cop, isn't convinced. While sitting at the Jim's counter, white hair poking out of his Aircorps cap, he frowned, swung his arm out and jabbed his thumb downward.

"I try to avoid it," he said. "A lot of people do. They don't want to come through Balcones because of those lights."

I don't recall what it was like in BH back when I was living in San Antonio, but here in Houston we avoid the BH-like sub-cities because of their zealous approach to speed limit enforcement. Adding red light cameras would be totally gilding the lily.

One las thing: Apparently, Michael Kubosh is taking his show on the road.

Kubosh is traveling Texas to have himself photographed and ticketed running red lights in all cities that have cameras, and then his attorney brother is filing lawsuits against those cities. Kubosh says Balcones Heights is definitely on his hit list. No word on how much defending this lawsuit will cost the suburb.

You folks in BH are welcome to keep him there for as long as you like. No rush to send him back. Take your time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 28, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Houston has those same signs at its red light camera intersections. People who think they're seeing red light cameras without warning signs may be seeing the small cameras the city has mounted at many intersections so that the traffic light control center can spot traffic backing up at traffic lights and adjust the traffic lights accordingly. Those cameras aren't for spotting red light runners, and they don't issue tickets, and there are a whole lot more of them than there are red light cameras.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on March 28, 2007 10:21 AM

What about
Bluetooth or
RFID chip

No surveillance nation.

Posted by: Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, if still possible on April 1, 2007 7:03 PM

There is a way to legally beat these cameras:

A majority of red light & speed cameras utilize strong flash to photograph the license plate on your car. Once sprayed on your license plate, PhotoBlocker´┐Żs special formula produces a high-powered gloss that reflects the flash back towards the camera. This overexposes the image of your license plate, rendering the picture unreadable.

Posted by: moe on April 11, 2007 6:58 PM