Between Sunday, November 7 and Thursday, November 11 (this very day as I write this), our five-part series, "Snap Judgment" has brought in constant calls and e-mails to me. Even had this chat earlier today, from kcrg.com and Cover It Live.
I appreciate all of the contact and the questions that have come in. The medium of television news makes it difficult to jam in all of the statistics – especially the trends (I really enjoy digging some of these out of the endless Excel tables I’m combing through).
We have two minutes to tell these stories on TV.
With this particular subject, I could probably go on for days…
Before I get to some of the more common themes and questions people keep coming back to, I also wanted to touch on some of the numbers and trends.
Red Light Cameras or Speed Cameras?
Do you remember, a year ago, when these were often described as "red light cameras"?
The first set of cameras from GATSO USA went up at 1st Avenue East & 10th Street and 2nd Avenue SE & 10th Street. Those cameras went live on March 2, 2010. Red light tickets were $100.
Take a look at this table, covering the breakdown between speeding violations and red light violations. The information in the following tables comes through a Freedom of Information Act Request, through the city of Cedar Rapids and GATSO.
On June 12, the cameras at I-380 & Diagonal Drive (northbound) went live. Then, August 28, the cameras at I-380 & H Avenue (northbound) started issuing citations. You can see the clear effect here.In September 2010, only 2.3% of the violations were for drivers running red lights.
So much for calling them "red light cameras". (Back in August, I made the quiet switch on the weekends to simply calling them "traffic cameras".)
Just how sharp is the effect of turning on the lights along the Interstate?
Who is getting the tickets?
On Wednesday night’s story, we also took a sharp light to whether Cedar Rapids is going to have a public relations issue because of these traffic cameras. As the cameras went "live" on I-380 in June, more and more people from outside the metro area are getting cited.
Earlier this month, a driver from Hawaii became that state’s first person to get a Cedar Rapids traffic ticket in the mail. With that violation, people in all 50 states have gone to the mailbox and have come face-to-face with a Cedar Rapids traffic camera citation.
Overall, through about 40,000 citations up until mid-October, about 42% of the tickets were mailed to people or businesses in Cedar Rapids, Marion or Hiawatha. Yet if you dig into the numbers a little bit deeper, the trend of more and more out-of-towners getting tickets clearly emerges.
Of course, this should make perfect sense as the Interstate 380 "ticket floodgates" have opened, especially with three live cameras watching I-380 — and a fourth one (I-380 & Diagonal Drive, southbound) on the way.
The Common Questions:
How much money does this cost the city? The city has maintained throughout GATSO handles the costs to install the cameras and get them up and running. For each ticket that is issued (up to the $500 maximum), GATSO gets a $30 cut. About 84% of the citations mailed out are of the $75 variety, leaving the Cedar Rapids Police Department with $45 and GATSO for $35.
How many of the tickets are considered "bad debt" or "written off"? Less than 10%. In our data analysis of the more than 40,000 incidents, through mid-October, 3,168 are listed as bad debt. 668 are listed as ‘undeliverable’.
How can a person appeal a citation? This does require returning to Cedar Rapids to fight it, which could be a real problem for people from out-of-town. To contest a traffic camera ticket, the appealer must set up an appointment through the CRPD. On select Thursday nights (not every Thursday night), a volunteer meets with the person who received the ticket at police headquarters. The volunteer will go over the video/photo evidence from the cameras.
When the tickets arrive, they do say police can fine you for driving even "1 MPH" over the limit. What is the tolerance? Now we get to the fun questions. How fast can people drive and not a get ticket? Framing the question in that fashion and giving advice on what to do probably wouldn’t be prudent for a respectable news organization. With that in mind, the data reveals a tolerance of at least 11 MPH over the speed limit. We do not see any speeding tickets issued for drivers going less than 67 MPH on I-380. Same for driving in town as the "unspoken" 11 MPH tolerance appears in place. This can change at any time and even Police Chief Greg Graham allowed the city could bring in much more revenue if the tolerance was set lower.
What about businesses or rental car companies? How liable are they? They are on the hook. Some businesses are now resorting to a ‘sign-out’ policy for company vehicles. The citations will go to the owner who registered the car or truck. Same for rental car companies. The company will get the ticket and then hunt down the person who rented the car at that particular time.
Any more cameras coming up in Cedar Rapids? Doesn’t sound like it. Graham said the city has a ten-camera agreement with GATSO and he has no plans to expand that at the current time.