By on June 1, 2009

The companies that operate traffic enforcement cameras scored total victory in the Texas legislature late Saturday as key lawmakers not only ditched a plan to sunset the use of red light cameras and lengthen yellow warning times at intersections, but they also approved a number of brand new opportunities for automated ticketing firms. The ten members of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reauthorization conference committee filed the final legislative text for House Bill 300 (click here for excerpts). It cannot now be changed unless either the House or Senate votes to reject the 532-page bill in its entirety. As a result, the proposals will likely become law with the expected signature of Governor Rick Perry (R).

Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) championed the cause of the automated ticketing companies by using a Senate-supported gasoline tax increase provision as leverage to convince tax-averse House members to drop their ban on red light cameras and the provision requiring longer yellow times. Carona had threatened to give local jurisdictions the authority to increase the fuel tax at a local level to boost government spending, as long as the increase was approved by referendum.

The House had introduced the longer yellow provision as a safety measure in response to a Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study that documented a 40 percent decrease in collisions after testing the benefits of increasing the yellow (view study), but photo enforcement companies and local jurisdictions opposed the provision because it would have reduced ticket revenue.

The only accommodation given to red light camera opponents in the final conference report was a provision allowing motorists to take an “intersection safety course” to avoid paying the $75 civil photo ticket. Local jurisdictions with camera programs do not have to offer such courses, and if they do, cities could legally charge more than the $75 ticket fee for the cost of the course. It is unclear why either a local jurisdiction or a motorist would seek this option.

The bill also recodifies provisions designed to make it a crime punishable by a $100 fine to have a license plate that cannot be read by an automated ticketing machine. This helps as the legislation creates a new “video billing” option offered by several automated ticketing companies for the purpose of collecting revenue on toll roads. The bill also encourages increasing the number of toll roads — and consequently more video-based toll collection and enforcement systems — by allowing “non-compete” contracts that effectively forbid improvements on free roads within a four-mile radius of any toll road.

Carona also succeeded in introducing a new high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane automated ticketing program that will mail $100 photo tickets to the owner of any vehicle accused of being in a carpool lane without the required number of passengers. It is unclear what automated technology will be used to peer into vehicles to count the number of occupants. Another TTI study found that safety would be improved if HOV lanes were eliminated. In Dallas, HOV lanes increased the number of injury accidents by up to 188 percent (view study).

Senators Carona and Kirk Watson (D-Austin) opposed the red light camera ban at every step of the process. Over the years, both senators have been richly rewarded by the lobbyists who support photo enforcement. For example, the firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson performs collection services for photo tickets and has handed Carona $24,500 in campaign cash and $11,912 to Watson. Watson took another $8000 from the lobbyists for American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and Redflex — Hugo Berlanga and Michael Warner.

A controversial automated license plate surveillance program was dropped at the last minute. The final bill also dropped an amendment clarifying that an existing ban on municipalities operating speed cameras applies to county governments and TxDOT.

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8 Comments on “Traffic Camera Lobbyists Score Big Win in Texas Legislature...”

  • avatar

    Money talks again, and the voters lose. As for Texans, if Rick Perry signs this bill, it’s just one more reason why he should be voted out of office.

  • avatar

    So for $45,000 they got these two to sell out 25,000,000 Texans. A pretty astounding return on investment.

  • avatar

    A liberal democrat and a conservative republican in bed together on revenue enhancement. How touching it that – with regards to our wallets.

  • avatar

    As a Texan I have to put this the only way I know how.

    We should tar and feather those yellow bellied politicians.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Republicans own the Texas political machine, and they are pushing through tax increases and red light cameras. Just goes to show that the rhetoric which wins at the ballot box often isn’t matched by the decisions once in office.

  • avatar

    I was just this morning at converted photo-enforced stoplight here in Austin and as I approached it flipped yellow and then red. I stopped in plenty of time but the short yellow was so apparent it was sickening.

    I use this light almost every day and have noticed two changes that coincided with the redlight camera conversion:
    1) the short yellow, and
    2) the wait time on red at the light has gone up significantly.

    What I mean with #2 is that when I am stopped on a red, I have to sit there now much longer. It’s like it goes red, but cross traffic sits there on red also, and there at some point is almost a temptation to think the light is defective and creep forward. It has also thrown the synchronization with surrounding lights completely out of whack, and now traffic at this light is way worse and you waste gas sitting at the next light now.

    So in short, thanks TX legislature (and all politicians everywhere) for proving once again that the needs and wishes of the constituents do not get considered at all. I always vote against these guys, but it seems other people love getting controlled and the security it provides them. Sheesh.

  • avatar

    The good ol’ boys down in Jawjah have discovered that large quantities of plain ol’ red mud spattered all over the license plate pretty much puts and end to these shenanigans. It is not yet a crime to not wash your truck, after all.

  • avatar

    Texas always was a suck-ass state.

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