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Friday, May 11, 2012

Special meeting on red light cameras focuses on financial issues

Both bidders promise NO COST to the town
By Will Collette

On May 9, the Town Council held a special workshop to see presentations by the two companies, Redflex and Sensys, that have proposed red light enforcement camera systems for Charlestown.

Since I don’t want to bury the lede, let me skip to the bottom line. Both vendors are offering to install a million-dollar system in Charlestown at no cost and no risk to the town. Further, neither system is likely to give Charlestown a bad reputation because the vendors will not control the length of the yellow, red or green traffic signals.


In other words, they will not set up “traps” and will only “capture” drivers who are actually running red lights. Plus, the final decision about whether or not to issue a ticket will be made by Charlestown Police, not the vendors.

Read their proposals by clicking here

When I wrote about this issue a few days ago, I expressed my enthusiasm for red light enforcement systems, but my concern that the costs are such that it would take more than a 1000 red-light tickets per month for the vendors to break even.

Even after listening to their presentation and hearing their guarantees that a red-light camera system is not going to cost Charlestown money, I still don’t understand how the money part will work for the vendors.

But it was also clear to me that (a) that’s their problem and (b) these guys haven’t just fallen off a turnip truck – they know what they’re doing.

Here’s the math that concerned me. Charlestown has four traffic signals. Each camera system covers one direction, so for each traffic light intersection, you need four camera set-ups to corner the four points of the compass. That’s 16 camera units.

Each costs roughly $5000 a month each. So multiply 16 cameras x $5000 x 12 months = $960,000. Add the incidentals and your just over $1 million.

Company website here
A red-light running ticket costs $85 and maybe 70-80% of the tickets actually get issued (after Charlestown Police review them) and paid. Roughly calculated, it would take 1250 tickets a month for red-light running to break-even.

I thought this could possibly lead to tricky enforcement – such as timing the yellow lights to boost the number of “captures.” However, that is not under the vendors’ control. It isn’t even under Charlestown’s control, since Route 1 is under RIDOT’s jurisdiction.

But either system will catch red-light runners that Charlestown Police presently do not catch. Indeed, Lt. Michael Paliotta who represented the Department at this meeting noted that the police issue very few red-light running tickets, simply because the officers are not there to catch the offenders.

He said that he sees the installation of a red-light enforcement system as a “force extender.”

Company website here
CCA Councilors Boss Tom Gentz and Deputy Dan Slattery asked both bidders the same question about the no-cost deal for the town at least a dozen different ways to test whether there was some trick. Each time, both vendors made it crystal clear that there is no risk to the town. After Boss Gentz asked one vendor the question six different ways, Councilor Avedisian piped in that “Tom, I hear him answering your question.”

Deputy Dan Slattery came to this session armed with several dozen questions, most of them designed, in my opinion, to show off what a hot guy he is because he has so many questions. I thought the answers to his questions were either self-evident or covered in the vendor proposals, but hey, this was a chance for Deputy Dan to try to make up for some of his recent blunders.

Too bad there was no one around to see Deputy Dan do his thing. I doubt the Clerkbase video of this meeting will be a big seller when it goes to DVD.

In the end, Boss Gentz pretty much summed up the result of this meeting as he seemingly realized the meeting was running way too long. He abruptly (and in my opinion, rudely) cut off the Sensys rep by saying that the real test of the financial terms will be the actual contract and the Town Solicitor’s review.

This item is on the agenda for the Town Council meeting on Monday, May 14, as Item 18(o.) which is at the very end of a very jammed-packed agenda. That makes it almost a sure bet that it will not be heard on Monday, and will probably be carried over to the second May Council meeting on May 21.

Oh, and as for the actual systems, I’ll be honest that I really don’t care. Both vendors have national reputations and lots of experience, so I don’t doubt their systems do what they say.

I thought the Redflex sales rep out-classed the Sensys guy by a wide margin. The Sensys guy was having a very hard time getting his electronic presentation to work – and that’s a very bad sign I think, since reliable technology is kind of important. I also thought Redflex had much more interesting bells and whistles – their Powerpoint presentation and electronic gimmickry worked just fine, by the way. 

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