D.C. rakes in $85m from traffic cameras

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Photo - Traffic camera in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Traffic camera in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District took in nearly $85 million in its most recent fiscal year from its sprawling network of speed and red-light cameras, shattering its previous record and inflaming an ongoing debate about ticket-based fines.

According to statistics from the District's chief financial officer, the city collected $84.9 million in "automated traffic enforcement" revenues through the end of September, when the city's 2012 fiscal year concluded.

In the 2011 fiscal year, the District logged about $55 million in traffic camera fines, a record at the time.

No commonwealth of cameras
Ticket-generating cameras are limited in Virginia, where municipalities can issue tickets from cameras for running red lights but not for speeding.

The final 2012 fiscal year statistics, which came days after several D.C. lawmakers introduced a measure to reduce speed camera fines, intensified the prospects for an end-of-the-year legislative clash.

Ward 2 D.C. Councilman Jack Evans said it would be a challenge to persuade lawmakers to slash fines now that they've been on the books for years.

"It's going to be tough," Evans said. "When the fines were established, there should have been more discussion about them."

While the bill has drawn support from nearly a half-dozen legislators, Mayor Vincent Gray, who has dismissed allegations that the cameras are essentially ATMs for the District government, has not yet embraced the measure.

Gray has said he would need to evaluate how much a reduction in fines would cut at the city's bottom line and that he was working on his own proposals to pitch to lawmakers.

But he also hit back hard at the allegation that the cameras are merely present to generate millions of dollars in cash.

"The public safety aspect for me is first and foremost," Gray told The Washington Examiner on Thursday. "We didn't necessarily see it as a revenue raiser because it raised more money than we thought it was going to raise. Obviously, the money will help to do other things in the city, but my priority will continue to be on public safety."

But camera opponents have long contended that the devices are high-tech antidotes for budget shortfalls, a perspective that didn't wane Thursday.

"This year, we'll have more revenue than ever and more citations than ever before," said John Townsend, of AAA Mid-Atlantic. "They're closing holes in the budget."

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, a sponsor of the proposal to lower fines, leveled a similar accusation.

"The administration and some of my colleagues view this as a way to make money for the government," Wells said. "The funding is there to reduce the fines. The question is will my colleagues see this as a windfall to fund their pet projects?"

But the District government is far from the only local government to boost its bank account with camera tickets.

Between September 2011 and September 2012, Prince George's County authorities issued more than 463,000 tickets and collected $7.8 million in fines.

And Montgomery County has taken in about $30 million in camera-based fines since the 2009 fiscal year, with another $5 million expected next year.

Examiner Staff Writers Rachel Baye and Liz Farmer contributed to this report.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner