Bankruptcy Ends SB’s Traffic Light Camera Ticket Program

SAN BERNARDINO–Bankruptcy appears to have inadvertently enabled San Bernardino city officials in a way they had not anticipated.
In 2011, the city of San Bernardino was  looking to join with a growing number of municipalities in San Bernardino County and California which had become disenchanted with the contracts those cities had for the operation of red light cameras and were opting out of those arrangements.
San Bernardino was bound by its arrangement with Scottsdale, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions to keep the camera-surveillance-and-red-light-violation-ticket-issuing systems in place until July 2014. The system was not popular with a large number of the city’s residents, many of whom were being cited to appear for making what would turn out to be, upon a time-consuming court appearance, legal right hand turns against a red light.  When the city attorney’s office first looked into shutting that operation down, the city council was informed it would cost $114,075 to buy out American Traffic Solutions’ contract. On March 7, 2011, the council elected to bite the bullet, pay American Traffic Solutions the buyout fee, and discontinue the program which had been in place since 2005.
Then, however, the city learned that a clause in the contract made breaking the contract much more expensive, i.e., $1.8 million. The council rescinded the buyout.
Now, five months after the city of San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy protection, American Traffic Solutions is leaving the county seat of its own volition.
Among the city’s creditors and vendors not being paid is American Traffic Solutions. The city in fiscal 2012-2013 was scheduled to pay the company $417,870 and an identical amount in 2013-14 to keep the system at several of the city’s major intersectionss functioning. But since July, the city has paid American Traffic solutions nothing. Last month, the company pulled the plug.
There had been controversy over the program from even before it was put in place. Some opposed it on safety grounds, arguing that it would result in an uptick in rear-end collisions as many motorists in reaction to yellow lights came to an abrupt halt. Advocates of the system said that the cameras would nonetheless prevent more lethal T-bone accidents, i.e., ones that involved cars being broadsided in the city’s intersections. Others charged that the city was less interested in safety than in producing revenue from traffic tickets.
These later critics found some validation when many cities, including San Bernardino, soured on the systems when they did not produce the revenue originally envisioned by proponents.
In San Bernardino, a fulltime police department employee was devoted to working the system, augmented by at least three other employees who devoted part of their work weeks to the processing of tickets. When the fees paid to American Traffic Solutions and the courts were subtracted from the net ticket proceeds, the city was losing money on the venture.
The city, buffeted by a $45.8 million systemic annual deficit, sought the refuge of bankruptcy protection last summer. Accompanying that filing was an effort to rein in costs. In the police department, sworn officer positions lost to attrition went unfilled. And a major bloodletting of non-sworn personnel took place, with 62 of its 103 non-sworn members laid off.  The gutting of the department’s clerical staff made processing camera tickets an extremely low priority.
American Traffic Systems in reaction shuttered, disassembled and removed its cameras last month. It then marched over to U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside, where it filed a $1.67 million claim for unpaid fees against the city. There is little prospect the city will be making good on that bill anytime soon. There are 12 other creditors with outstanding claims against San Bernardino larger than American Traffic Systems’ bill.

Leave a Reply