Revenue From Speed Cameras Could Dwarf Chicago’s Red Light Camera Program
EXCLUSIVE STORY with CBS 2 News
That’s the revenue Chicago’s red light camera program program generated in 2010.
But, based on reports from the Chicago Department of Transportation, a proposed speed camera enforcement program being pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel would make the city’s RLC program look penny ante in comparison.
The Expired Meter obtained the results of three studies conducted by CDOT over the past few years which shed light on how lucrative the speed camera business could be for Chicago.
Data from these reports seem to indicate that revenue from speed cameras could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for a desperate, cash-strapped city.
Emanuel is pushing legislation through the Illinois General Assembly at breakneck speed, which if passed, would allow Chicago to utilize its red light cameras to also issue $100 speeding ticket to drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 5 mph in designated “safety zones” within 1/8 of a mile of schools and parks. The bill has already passed in the state Senate and could be passed by the state House this week.
As the basis for the automated speed camera program, the mayor along with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard all pointed to a study which showed over 25% of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit at seven intersections.
Mayor Emanuel says ““I hope I get no revenue from this” and CDOT chief Gabe Klein claims the goal is just to get drivers to slow down.
Whether or not pedestrian safety is improved and the lives of children are saved may be unanswerable questions.
However, if the data from these speed enforcement studies are to be believed, one thing that can be determined is that speed cameras will generate significant revenue for the City of Chicago.
CDOT’s Spring Speed Enforcement Study
CDOT conducted a study of seven approaches at intersections with red light cameras to document the number of cars speeding through those locations over a two month period this past spring from April 1 through May 31st.
An approach by definition is just one leg of an intersection. Most intersections have four approaches, one for each direction. Although as Chicago drivers know, the city has a handful of six approach intersections. Typically, intersections with red light camera enforcement have at least two approaches with cameras and in rare occasions three.
The study monitored the speed of vehicles only during weekdays from 6 AM to 11 AM and then from noon until 4 PM. During the nine hours per day over the course of 43 days, cameras recorded 1,418,797 vehicles passing through the seven approaches.
While the city’s report said nearly 26% of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit, under the proposed law tickets would only be issued if the driver exceeds 5 mph, which drops that percentage to 9% or 131,034 vehicles.
In other words, if speed cameras were enforcing during this two month period, 131,034 drivers would have been issued tickets totaling $13.1 million in fines.
Revenue Could Reach Hundreds Of Millions
While a hefty amount of cash to be sure, the revenue picture gets even brighter for Chicago when you apply the currently proposed hours and days of enforcement to the city’s study.
The current version of the speed enforcement bill would allow Chicago to have speed camera enforcement five school days a week from 6 AM until 10 PM–16 hours a day–not the paltry nine hours during weekdays the study covered. Safety zones around park districts would operate seven days a week starting an hour before the park opens and an hour after it closes.
Extrapolating the numbers provided in CDOT’s study for a school safety zone, based on 48 violations per hour per approach, each camera would produce 768 violations a day or 16,512 citations and potential fines of $1.65 million for the first month. All seven cameras would produce an estimated 115,584 speeding citations or $11.5 million in potential fines for that month
Projecting future revenues is slightly more challenging, as estimates must take into consideration the effect of camera enforcement on driver behavior. The assumption is motorists would alter behavior with the knowledge that enforcement is occurring. Of course, after a few $100 tickets in the mail, people will learn to slow down and violations will decrease over time, but never completely disappear.
But using CDOT’s red light camera violations in 2010 as a model, monthly totals for red light running can be seen to be dropping by an average of 5.3% per month for the last seven months of that year after CDOT stopped adding more cameras to the program.
Applying a regression to the mean to the projected initial numbers, the first twelve months of enforcement where fines would be issued, from just these seven locations would still produce 990,822 speed violations or nearly $100 million in fines–a dollar amount that far exceeds the total revenue generated by the all 382 red light cameras every year.
In other words, projected violations were discounted by 5.3% every month, acknowledging driver behavior will change and violations will fall over time.
Using a seven day a week model that reflects the days and hours around a park district property, the total revenue for a year could be as high as $150 million.
As further context, the city issued 767,603 total red light camera citations in 2010 utilizing 382 cameras.
In even broader terms, CDOT confirms 79 intersections or 158 cameras would fall within a school or park safety zone to qualify for speed enforcement enhancement under the current bill.
Without more traffic data at the 79 intersections in question, it would be difficult to produce an accurate estimate of what kind of revenue speed cameras could produce. But based on Chicago’s own numbers, it is safe to say hundreds of millions of dollars could be generated per year by a speed enforcement program of this magnitude.
“It’s blatantly about revenue,” says anti-camera proponent Brian Costin. “They’re using kids to generate revenue.”
Costin, who works for the Illinois Policy Institute, helped bring down suburban Schaumburg’s red light camera program a few years ago, believes Chicago has a questionable record when it comes to traffic safety and is worried how far the program would expand.
“I am gravely concerned when the City of Chicago says their doing something to improve traffic safety,” says Costin. “Their track record it horrible. You can tell it’s not really about safety when you look at the hours of operation (proposed hours of enforcement) are not during just school hours but when most people drive to maximize revenue.”
2006 Study Shows Speeding Violations Would Far Outpace RLC Tickets
CDOT did two previous studies back in 2006 and 2008 where they found that speeding violations documented by red light cameras far exceeded red light violations.
In 2006, one red light camera at the intersection of Kedzie & 79th documented speeding seven days a week, 24 hours a day for a three month period from January 10th through April 9th.
Over that three month period, the camera issued 398 red light camera violations, but caught 13,995 drivers exceeding the speed limit according to the report from CDOT.
That breaks down to 35 speeding violations for every one RLC violation–a shocking ratio which supports the potential revenue windfall the 2011 study portends.
This report did not break down speeding incidents by how fast the vehicle exceeded the speed limit, so it is impossible to tell how many vehicles exceeded the 5 mph threshold to warrant a $100 fine.
Another study done in 2008 monitored two Southside intersections on Western Ave. with speed cameras between September 30th and October 25, documenting speeding from 6 AM to 6 PM.
This study paints an even uglier picture as a surprising 23% of the 85,231 vehicles detected over the course of the study, or 19,660 of the motorists, were driving in excess of 5 mph over the speed limit and could be eligible for a $100 fine under the current version of the bill.
Overall, CDOT’s studies do show a tremendous level of speed violations occurring on Chicago streets. But also demonstrates a potential massive revenue stream from drivers wallets into city coffers.
While the debate on whether a speed enforcement program will improve pedestrian safety will continue, it’s safe to say Mayor Emanuel could tap a revenue stream that could speed the city out of debt.
Multiple calls and emails to CDOT for comment over the past week by The Expired Meter were not returned.
Updated 11/7/11 to reflect change in the hours and days of camera operation around schools–a more conservative estimate.