Rochester City Council members had an intense debate this afternoon over the city’s red-light camera program. Council members questioned the efficacy of the program, whether the cameras unfairly target the city’s poorest neighborhoods, whether the city has become dependent on the revenue from the program, and if the benefits outweigh the ill will that the program engenders from the community.
The discussion took place during Council’s review of Mayor Lovely Warren’s $502-million proposed budget.
The red-light program angers people more than any other city program or policy, Council President Loretta Scott said. She said she gets more complaints about the program than about police issues or the city’s snowplowing services.
She said that the tickets disproportionately punish poorer people with less disposable income. And losing access to their cars could prevent them from finding jobs and-or getting to work, she said.
Council member Adam McFadden made a similar argument. He said that the map of red-light camera locations looks similar to the shape of Rochester’s troubled crescent neighborhoods.
Warren responded that the cameras are located at the intersections with the most accidents.
Council’s angst seems tied, in part, to the city’s decision last year to start booting the vehicles of people with multiple unpaid tickets. Between towing, impound, and other charges, the fees add up, some Council people said, and the person’s credit could be hit. McFadden called for a temporary amnesty program so that people could come in and pay their fines without threat of punishment.
Warren said that people are given multiple opportunities and multiple ways to take care of their tickets before the situation escalates. The bottom line, she said, is that people are never going to fall in love with the red-light program, and it’s up to Council whether to continue it.
“No matter what we do, they’re not going to like it,” Warren said. “These issues are not going to go away. Either you’re going to do it or you’re not.”
Council member Elaine Spaull said she thought that the idea of the program is to change people’s driving behavior, which means that violations and collections should go down. But, she said, violations are going up.
“So I’m not sure it’s working in terms of changing behaviors,” she said.
The red-light program brings in about $1 million annually for the city.