The long battle over the red light camera program in Houston, Texas ended Wednesday. The city council voted 14-1 to repeal the ordinance that granted American Traffic Solutions (ATS) the right to issue automated tickets at fifty intersections throughout the country’s fourth largest city.
“This is a total victory for the voters of Houston,” Citizens Against Red Light Cameras spokesman Philip Owens told TheNewspaper. “The only shame is it took too long to get where we are. Today was more of an exercise in political theater but a win is a win.”
The anti-camera group successfully brought a charter amendment on the red light camera issue before voters in November, and a solid majority rejected photo ticketing. ATS refused to accept the public’s verdict, which meant the loss of $3 million a year in revenue. The company found a federal judge willing to overturn the ballot choice (view ruling), giving Mayor Annise D. Parker an excuse to turn the cameras back on. Feeling heat from the public, Parker backed off and decided it would be best to buy their way out of the contract with ATS, which does not expire until 2014. ATS has claimed the city will owe $25 million if the cameras are shut off.
“We are prepared to pay a reasonable settlement, but what that settlement is is undetermined,” Parker said. “We think they’re on the lower end. ATS — their number keeps growing… If we are in fact told by a judge to pay it, we will figure a way to pay it.”
The council adopted a measure insisting the cameras not only be shut off, but permanently removed as soon as possible in accordance with the law. Judge Lynn N. Hughes issued a management order last year at the request of ATS forcing the cameras to remain up until the case is finally resolved. Houston had agreed to the ATS request.
“I’m going to go back into federal court and ask the judge to rescind his management order so that the cameras can come down in accordance with the contract,” City Attorney David Feldman said. “I have no reason to believe the judge would refuse my request to rescind the order.”
Under the contract, ATS would be required to take down the cameras within 45 days at their expense if Judge Hughes lifts his order.
“There’s ample precedent for cities taking down the cameras,” Feldman said. “For every contract ATS seems to enter into — just following it on the Net — there’s a city taking the cameras down and getting out of the contract.”