By on September 8, 2009

A photo enforcement company is going all out in an effort to keep College Station, Texas voters from banishing red light cameras when the issue appears on the November 3 ballot. American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the private company in charge of the cameras, is fighting the grassroots referendum effort with paid political advocacy. ATS last week established a group called “Keep College Station Safe Political Action Committee” (PAC). With millions in revenue at stake from the exclusive twenty-year contract with College Station, the Arizona firm turned to Jessica Colon and Emily Reiter, a Weight Watchers employee, to form the core of the public relations effort. The PAC’s first move has been to conduct what is known as a “push poll” of local residents. Members of the community forum described their perspective on the telephone survey.

“Last evening I received a call and was asked to participate in an opinion survey concerning the red light cameras in College Station,” one user explained. “To me the survey seemed less about finding out my opinion but rather to influence me in favor of the cameras.”

The PAC’s website does not disclose its financial ties to ATS, nor did it disclose the connection in its telephone survey. This may have backfired with a second forum user.

“I asked the lady conducting the survey who funded it; she said she did not know,” the resident wrote. “I thought the questions were designed to make one want to keep the cameras. Before the survey, I was on the fence as I can think of pros and cons for each position. Because I felt the survey was an attempt to manipulate me into supporting the cameras, I have decided to vote to have the cameras removed.”

The leader of the grassroots effort to remove the cameras, College Station resident Jim Ash, is fighting back with facts about the city’s ticketing program.

“The city of College Station council members made statements in the council meeting on August 27 that their goal is to just make sure one more person gets to go home,” Ash wrote. “This is a standard tool used by the state to make you think a problem exists that only the sacrifice of your rights can cure.”

According to a map of traffic fatalities from 2005 to 2009 that Ash prepared, none of the red light cameras could be intended to “save lives” because they were not installed at the most deadly intersections (view map).

Since 1991, six cities around the country have held similar elections and cameras were overwhelmingly rejected all six times. While ATS was successful in pouring money into a statewide anti-congestion referendum in Washington, that initiative would not have banned the use of a single camera. Instead, one part of the complicated measure would have diverted profit from the use of tolls and cameras to fighting congestion (read initiative). Some voters expressed concern about the way the measure would have diverted local money from rural areas into the more congested urban locations.

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