Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Privatized Traffic Cameras Pad the Corporate Bottom Line

Revenue from traffic tickets generally pays for public services. It's long been a running joke that if a city or community needs more money, they just raise the quota on tickets, right? Actually, it never really was that black and white, but that was the theory that was passed around by anyone unfortunate enough to receive a ticket. Damn government and their social engineering, taking your money after you broke the law and using it to fund the cops and the parks and the libraries and whatever hole they have to plug because we had to give the wealthy more tax cuts.

Well, never fear, drown government fans. Thanks to your insistence that we cut, cut, cut and privatize all those public services, that money will now go straight to corporate profits and the organizations that will lobby for even more corporate profits from the taxpayer dime, and your community can just do without. Happy now?

One out of every five Americans lives in a community that pays a for-profit company to install and operate cameras that record traffic violations.

A pro-consumer group says that practice could end up putting profits ahead of safety and accuracy.

Some contracts require cities to share revenue with camera vendors on a per-ticket basis or through other formulas as a percentage of revenue. Suffolk County, N.Y., for example, diverts half of the revenue from its red-light camera program to its vendor, according to the report released Thursday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Another type of agreement — conditional "cost-neutral" contracts — also contain provisions that link payments to the number of tickets issued, although the payments are capped, the report said. Under these contracts, local governments pay a monthly fee to a camera vendor. If ticket revenues fail to cover the vendor's fee in any given month, cities may delay payments. That gives vendors "an incentive to ensure a minimum (number) of citations are issued," the report said.

What's the incentive? Penalties to those cities who fail to deliver the money.

Some contracts penalize cities if they don't approve enough tickets, effectively setting a ticket quota, the report said. That can undermine the authority of local authorities to when to issue tickets, it said.

"Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety," said Phineas Baxandall, the report's co-author.

But... but... but... they need those profits to fund astroturf groups that will keep the profits coming in! So stop already with your "anti business" jabbering. Geez, haven't you learned anything about how government really works these days?

Some red-light camera vendors have created and bankrolled organizations like the National Coalition for Safer Roads that appear to be grassroots civic groups, but which mainly promote greater use of red-light cameras, the report said.


Camera vendors employed nearly 40 lobbyists this year in Florida whose agenda included killing a bill that would have required communities to adopt longer yellow light times to increase intersection safety and killing a separate bill that would have banned red-light camera systems, the report said.

This is yet another example of the real goal behind privatizing public services; turning that money over to corporations, who are then going to actively work to fund groups and politicians who will change the laws so they can find more ways to extract even more money out of your pocket and your community.

We have many instances now where privatization generally does not save money in head-to-head competition with existing public services, and we aren't even counting the amount that is extracted from the local economy that now goes to a far-away corporation. And, because this is still done under the name of "the government", people are unaware that corporate profits are driving these quotas and fines, so these companies escape accountability while the Republicans still can run the anti-government propaganda playbook at election time.

Thievery at its finest. Gotta admit, they have turned this into an art form.