Fairfax, VA Finalizes Illegal Contract with Australians

March 20, 2009

In a press release to the Australian Securities Exchange last week, Melbourne-based Redflex Traffic Systems announced that it had executed a contract with the city of Fairfax, Virginia. In a closed-door meeting earlier this year, the Fairfax City Council had approved this agreement which is built upon a per-ticket bounty scheme specifically outlawed by the General Assembly in 2007. In case you don’t believe that red light cameras aren’t the gateway drug for photo radar, check out what Redflex has to say:

“With heavy population densities and substantial red-light and speed market development opportunities, the
expansion into the Mid-Atlantic, Northern Virginia and Washington D.C metropolitan areas is an important
achievement for Redflex. We are confident that building out our footprint by fostering a world-class public safety
program with the City of Fairfax will provide ample near and long-term opportunities to extend Redflex’s market
leadership” said Karen Finley, CEO Redflex Traffic Systems.

Release is here (PDF).


Why is Fairfax Lying About Red Light Cameras?

February 5, 2009

Fairfax City Councilman Dan Drummond is apparently the official salesman for red light cameras in Northern Virginia. We’d like to know why. Here’s what he said:

Fairfax Councilman Dan Drummond

Fairfax Councilman Dan Drummond

“The city of Fairfax and other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth are not making money off this. It’s purely a safety program…. When we had the program there were about 325 fewer T-bone or side-impact accidents. These are the most dangerous that you can find, as opposed to the rear fender-bender (where) there was a slight increase.”

Really? Look at the actual VDOT data. Overall in Virginia, T-bone or side-impact accidents increased 20%. Increased is the opposite of decreased, Dan. Rear-enders went up 42%. That’s not slight, Dan. Injury accidents increased 18%. Injury accidents are the worst kind, Dan. Total accidents went up 29%. So why are you trying to con the public about this, Dan?

As mentioned in a previous post, Fairfax numbers are problematic because a complete set of “before” accident data is not available. Still, no possible interpretation of Fairfax numbers shows any statistically significant benefit from the use of cameras. A look at some real-life red light camera crashes may also help to expose the magnitude of Dan’s lie:

Minor fender-bender

Minor fender-bender

“A red light camera in Kingsport, Tennessee caused a dump truck to overturn in a massive multicar accident on Wednesday that snarled traffic for hours… The incident was sparked by a vehicle that stopped short at the intersection, presumably to avoid a red light camera citation. According to the Times-News, this surprised Thomas Aaron Johnson, 29, who was following behind in a black 2001 Pontiac Grand Am. To avoid slamming into the car that had suddenly stopped, Johnson swerved into the right-hand lane, side-swiping a 1985 Mack DM6 dump truck driven by Larry Kent Simmons, 56. Simmons himself swerved, hit a third car, overturned and sent his load of dirt all over the road and on top of a parked car.” Full Story.

Or look at this one:

Dan doesn't think this is serious

Dan doesn't think this is serious

“A red light camera in Kingsport, Tennessee caused an accident yesterday that transformed a Honda sedan into an unrecognizable mass of twisted steel. Rescue crews employed the jaws of life to save the victims, two of whom were sent to the hospital where at least one is listed in critical condition…. The incident took place at the intersection of Clinchfield Street and Stone Drive where, last year, Kingsport installed a red light camera. The city hoped that the fear of receiving a ticket would change drivers’ reactions to the traffic signal. In this case, the driver of a blue Honda reacted by stopping short at a yellow light to avoid that ticket. The 18-wheeler behind, however, could not match the smaller car’s braking ability and slammed into the Honda. Kingsport Police Deputy Chief David Quillin told the Times-News last month that he knew accidents like this would happen, but he downplayed their importance.” Full Story.

Cameras kill

Cameras kill

Of course, there are always be those who say on the one hand that cameras are responsible for decreases in accidents, but “it’s not the camera’s fault” when a car is rear-ended. They throw in the platitude that “it’s not like the camera comes down off the pole and kills anyone.”  Well, actually, that HAS happened. Full Story.

Give Dan a call at (703) 218-4090 or an email at ddrummond@fairfaxva.gov to let him know what you think.

Fairfax Flouts Law, Adopts Dodgy Deal with Fellow Scofflaws

January 15, 2009

At 1am today, long after the public had left the council chambers and long after those who watch such things on public access cable television had dozed off, Fairfax City Council members approved the dodgy deal with Redflex. Five remained in the audience until the end to point out:

  1. Fairfax cameras increased accidents
  2. The contract is illegal on revenue neutrality and diversion of cash from the literary fund grounds
  3. The city is ignoring superior engineering countermeasures
  4. The tickets are unenforceable
  5. The tickets undermine constitutional protections and privacy

After being threatened with a pair of lawsuits on point #2 above, the council retreated to an hour-long private deliberation away from the public to “consult with the city attorney.” In a cowardly move, members returned for a quick vote that was unanimous in favor of the illegal deal with the lawbreaking Australian company. (Redflex has been fined for violating FCC regulations governing radar and for falsifying documents used in securing speed camera convictions.) No response was offered to the detailed concerns brought by members of the public over the proposal.

There’s still more to do. The Virginia Department of Transportation must approve any proposed camera intersections on engineering grounds, and the council can reconsider its actions at any time. That’s not going to happen unless we let residents know this scam is going on so that they can put pressure on council members:

  • Mayor Robert F. Lederer: RLederer@fairfaxva.gov
  • Joan W. Cross: JCross@fairfaxva.gov
  • Daniel F. Drummond: DDrummond@fairfaxva.gov
  • Jeffrey C. Greenfield: JGreenfield@fairfaxva.gov
  • David L. Meyer: dmeyer@fairfaxva.gov
  • Gary J. Rasmussen: GRasmussen@fairfaxva.gov
  • Steven C. Stombres: SStombres@fairfaxva.gov

Literature drops to get the word out in the community would help. Here’s a flyer to pass out. (PDF)

Fairfax City Proposes Illegal Contract with Australian Company

January 9, 2009

On January 13, the Fairfax city council will adopt a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to install deadly red light cameras at ten intersections in Fairfax, Virginia. How does this work?

Redflex, a company based in Melbourne, Australia, promises to pay the city of Fairfax for the privilege of installing the cameras, reviewing the photographs, creating public relations material promoting the system (i.e. propaganda), repairing any damage, preparing all materials for court hearings, mailing citations and collecting fine payments. It’s all spelled out in Appendix B of the contract (warning: PDF) You might be wondering, if Redflex is doing so much then what role does the city have? The answer is: none. In fact, Fairfax doesn’t even need to go down to the bank and cash its giant monthly check.

Redflex will deposit all of the ticket revenue in the city’s bank account — minus a monthly fee of $4,740 per intersection or a grand total of $568,800  per year. In fact, Redflex guarantees that the city will not, under any circumstances, lose any money on the deal, even if no tickets are ever issued. This so-called “cost neutrality” provision, spelled out in Appendix D, also happens to be illegal.

The contract says:

Cost Neutrality
Cost neutrality is assured to Customer — Customer will never be required to pay Redflex more than actual cash received by Redflex, and such cost neutrality should be reconciled on a monthly basis. This is a material provision of this Agreement and a condition precedent for Customer agreeing to enter into this Agreement.

In other words, despite all the wonderful benefits promised, the city has no interest in paying for its “safety” program. The most important provision in the entire document, the “condition precedent,” is that the city of Fairfax make a profit. We’ll let the reader decide whether that’s a shady motivation or not. Let’s look instead at what the Code of Virginia has to say about it.

A private entity may enter into an agreement with a locality to be compensated for providing the traffic light signal violation monitoring system or equipment, and all related support services, to include consulting, operations and administration….  No locality shall enter into an agreement for compensation based on the number of violations or monetary penalties imposed.

So, let’s think about this. Redflex must be able to keep $4,740 per intersection per month from the cash it collects from motorists. That’s roughly a total of 95 paid tickets. What happens if only half that amount, say 45 tickets, are actually paid? That would mean that Redflex would collect $2,250, but Fairfax would not be required to make up the difference because the contract says: “Customer will never be required to pay Redflex more than actual cash received by Redflex.”

That means if Redflex collects $2,250 in monetary payments, the company — a private entity — will be compensated $2,250. If Redflex collects on one more ticket to $2,300, then Redflex will be compensated $2,300. And so on up to $4,740. There is no getting around the fact that this would be compensation according to the number of violations and the amount of monetary penalties imposed.

An appellate court in California has already considered this issue and struck down a similar contract between the city of Fullerton and a different firm, Nestor Traffic Systems (NTS). The judge ruled:

The possibility that fees could be negotiated ‘down’ if it is determined fees paid to NTS exceed ‘net program revenues being realized,’ indirectly ties fees to NTS to the amount of revenue generated from the program. If insufficient revenue is generated to cover the monthly fee, the fee could be ‘negotiated down.’ As such, NTS has an incentive to ensure sufficient revenues are generated to cover the monthly fee.

So, not only is what Fairfax City proposes to do dangerous, it’s also illegal.

Did Cameras Increase Accidents in Fairfax City?

January 7, 2009

Our post yesterday mentioned in passing that the Virginia Department of Transportation’s 2007 study of red light cameras found that the total number of accidents dipped slightly in Fairfax City after red light cameras were installed. Every other city in Virginia reported a large increase in accidents and injuries at the intersections with cameras. A closer examination of the VDOT report’s fine print shows that this conclusion is far from clear and that Fairfax City’s results do not support the need for red light cameras.

It turns out that at two of the seven intersections where red light cameras were used in Fairfax City, the “before installation” data were incomplete. To compensate, VDOT used statistical methods to, in effect, guess what that those missing data might be. It used two different sets of assumptions on how to fill in the missing numbers. Fair enough. But what happens when you look at the raw before & after data for just the intersections with complete datasets? (page 74)

Fairfax City Camera Crashes Per Intersection Year per Million Entering Vehicles

Intersection Before After Change
Route 29/50 and Route 123 398.7 466.0 +16.9%
Route 123 and North Street 632.2 399.3 -36.8%
Route 50 and Jermantown 196.1 277.0 +41.3%
Route 236 and Pickett 60.8 346.9 +470.6%

Doesn’t look so good, does it? Well, it turns out the control intersections in Fairfax City — the ones free from Big Brother cameras — saw their own increases in accidents. To sort out what this means, VDOT used three different equations to figure out whether the cameras provided a benefit or not. These are all commonly accepted statistical methods. Page 33 shows a summary of the effects based on which of these methods you select:

Total Crashes in Fairfax City

  • Paired t-test: nonsignificant increase
  • General Linear Models: nonsignificant increase
  • Empirical Bayes: nonsignificant decrease

Two methods tell you accidents went up a tiny bit, one popular method says they went down a tiny bit. In other words, what we’re looking at is essentially a statistical draw.

So tell me again why Fairfax City wants to install these cameras?

Deadly Red Light Cameras Returning to Virginia

January 6, 2009

Red light cameras are about to return to Virginia, and the City of Fairfax wants to be the first with a shiny, new automated ticketing system. Now is your chance to send a message to all the greedy municipalities in the Commonwealth that we will not sit back and let this happen without a fight. Come and speak out at the next Fairfax City Council meeting.

What: Protest/Literature distribution at Fairfax city council meeting.
When: January 13, 2009 at 7pm
Where: Fairfax City Hall Annex, 10455 Armstrong Street
Google map

Fairfax city council resolution in PDF

Here’s the background on scameras in Virginia. Certain municipalities had the legal authority to use red light cameras in Virginia from 1995 to 2005. They were installed in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Vienna, Newport News and Virginia Beach. The Virginia Department of Transportation in 2007 reported the following effects after an exhaustive study of the first five of those cities:

  • Rear end accidents increased 42%
  • Angle accidents increased 20%
  • Injury accidents increased 18%
  • The total number of accidents increased 29%

Get a copy of the study

The General Assembly at first refused to reauthorize red light cameras in 2005, killing the deadly program — but not for long. Over the course of two years, furious lobbying from the insurance industry (photo tickets carry license points and higher insurance rates in states like California and Arizona) and greedy municipalities led to the adoption of the current reauthorizing statute. Despite the demonstrated failure of this Big Brother program as a safety measure, now any city with a population above 10,000 can have cameras.

The first time around, we didn’t have the data about camera enforcement because the concept was new and untested. Now it’s beyond dispute: this stuff is dangerous. In 2005, The Washington Post found accidents DOUBLED at District intersections with cameras installed. VDOT found massive increases in accidents everywhere (except Fairfax City, perhaps the reason they want to be first — it alone reported a single-digit reduction). View all of the independent studies on the issue.

There is an alternative. In Fairfax County, only one intersection with a red light camera experienced a drop in accidents: Route 50 and Fair Ridge. The full story will be revealed in a separate post, but the basic gist is that VDOT shortened the yellow timing just before the camera was activated. After the camera had been operational for a while, VDOT increased the duration of the yellow light, back to where it should have been, from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds. On the very next day, reports show that violations plunged 94% and did not return. Of course, that massive statistical drop was used to help make the cameras look like an amazing success. But we know the truth now. Cameras did nothing; timing did everything. There is an alternative that is more effective and that doesn’t undermine the Constitution or invade privacy. The problem is, the real safety solution doesn’t help balance the budget.

Let’s inform the city council that we know their contract with Australian Redflex Traffic Systems is illegal. The proposal includes a “cost neutrality” provision that violates the Virginia reauthorization law requiring flat-rate compensation for the private company in charge of issuing tickets. The question was just litigated at the appellate level in California.

The facts are on our side, but it will take more than facts to stop a city council intent on balancing its budget at the cost of public safety and freedom. Let’s be there January 13 to let them know we’re on to their scheme. The lie that these things are about safety has been exposed.