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More on anti-traffic camera bill

Here’s the Chron story on the anti-traffic camera bill filed by State Rep. Gary Elkins (R, Houston). It appears to have bipartisan support.

State Rep. Gary Elkins of Houston, a Republican who led opposition to camera enforcement of red lights in the 2003 Legislature, already has filed a bill to kill the ordinance council passed this week. At least two Democratic lawmakers, Sylvester Turner and Garnet Coleman, also oppose it.

“We are very supportive of the city on a lot of things it wants to do, but the city has got to know the Legislature has been adamantly opposed to red-light cameras during at least the last five sessions,” Elkins said.

Elkins said he has met with many area legislators, and there is “overwhelming support” to put a roadblock in the way of Houston’s ordinance. The city hoped to start using cameras to issue tickets in at least 10 dangerous intersections by April, and to expand the program to as many as 50 intersections.

Elkins said he is worried that vendors of camera systems, who are frequently paid a portion of ticket revenues, will manipulate the timing of traffic lights to issue more tickets and maximize profits.

Such accusations were leveled against vendors in California lawsuits that led to the dismissal of hundreds of tickets.

“The potential for greed will lead to a potential for manipulation,” Elkins said.

The city has not yet decided if it will pay a vendor chosen through competitive bidding a flat fee or a percentage of ticket revenues.

The Democratic legislators voiced privacy concerns.

“There’s been a proliferation of cameras to monitor people, particularly by cameras controlled by the government,” Coleman said. “What (state) legislators make decisions on and what the city makes decisions on are totally different. We as state legislators look out for things like privacy rights.”

Mayor Bill White said it will be one of his top priorities in the legislative session to convince lawmakers not to fight Houston’s ordinance, citing national studies that show red-light cameras have increased safety in many of the more than 100 cities that use them.

“If the people in Austin don’t want us to use technology, then we’d be happy if the state gave us more money to hire more officers,” White said.

I think Mayor White is going to lose this one, but if he does somehow get more money out of Austin for traffic control, then he’s even shrewer than I thought. I don’t think he’ll come away with a consolation prize, not in these penurious times, but at least he’s staked out the possibility. This will be worth watching.

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  1. kevin whited says:

    Maybe he could just let us know how much extra money he’s extracting from his new downtown meters instead of begging the lege for $$$.

    Oops, forgot — we don’t have enough police manpower to keep people from stealing the downtown meters as quickly as we install them.

    I’d take that as a hint about HPD’s manpower issues if I were running this city, but what do I know….

  2. Mathwiz says:

    Most trenchant comment I’ve read from Kevin in a long time.

    If the Lege does let Houston get away with this, they need to at least ensure that whoever’s in charge of setting the timing on the lights has no connection to the enforcement cameras. There’s just no need to allow such an obvious conflict of interest.

    There are two ways of doing this: the most obvious would be to shorten the yellow lights (although, given the way the ordinance is written, leaving them alone would amount to a “shortening” of a second or two), thus giving drivers the Hobson’s choice of attempting an unsafe panic stop, or (also unsafely) speeding up in hopes of avoiding the fine. But the cleverer way would be to make the yellow lights longer, causing regular drivers to learn that the yellow light is usually “crying wolf,” thus tempting them to run it even if it’s stale, and nailing the last couple of drivers through when the light really does turn red.