Pasadena Turns off Red-Light Cameras that Didn’t Put the City in the Black

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Pasadena has joined a growing list of cities which have turned off the red-light cameras that enraged drivers and raised revenues for cash-strapped state and local governments.

The city launched its red-light program in 2003 but decided in June not to renew its contract with American Traffic Solutions, Inc. for its seven cameras. Although the program in Pasadena was reportedly running at a deficit, its popularity among officials up and down the state has been attributed, in part, to added revenues.

The Department of Finance estimates that red-light cameras bring in $80 million a year to the state and $50 million to cities and counties. A single camera near the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue in Oakland generated $4.2 million in 2010.

The fine for being caught by a camera running a red light in California is around $480, almost double that of any other jurisdiction in the country, according to, a traffic-watch website. The San Francisco Chronicle says they are the most expensive red-light tickets in the world.

Proponents of the system say it acts as a strong deterrent to running red lights, cuts down on traffic accidents and frees up police to perform more important functions. Its detractors say the system does none of that. Instead, they argue: Almost all the tickets are for rolling stops that endanger no one; motorists surprised by a flashing camera are more likely to cause an accident; police are still tied up in court when the tickets are contested; and car owners are often incorrectly identified as drivers because the camera isn’t positioned to see them.

Ten cities besides Pasadena have closed, or announced an intention to close, their red-light programs during the past year. Los Angeles stopped issuing red-light tickets in July 2011 after it was revealed that the courts were not aggressively pursuing collection of the fines. At the time, there were 65,000 tickets outstanding, but revenues from tickets plummeted from $107,192 in September to $7,452 in January of this year. Although people with unpaid red-light tickets may have dodged the penalty for now, any subsequent violations might trigger further hot pursuit.  

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, he vetoed legislation that would have cut the fine in half, saying it would be a blow to public safety. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill authored by Senator Joseph Simitian that would have made it easier to fight red-light tickets in court and prohibit the use of red-light cameras simply to raise revenue. Brown said it was a local issue. Simitian followed up with a second bill, SB 1303, that includes many of the first bill’s features but adds protection to owners of vehicles who weren’t driving during the offense and makes it easier to contest a ticket. The Senate unanimously approved the measure, which is now before the Assembly.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Pasadena Shuts Down Red-Light Camera Program (by Adolfo Flores, Pasadena Sun)

California: Opposition Mounts to Red Light Camera Bill (The Newspaper)

Senate Bill 1303 (California Legislative Information)

LAPD Won't Pursue Red-Light Camera Tickets in Court (by Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times)

Red-Light Cameras Boost Coffers, Rile Drivers (by Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle)

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