Speed Cams Aren’t Generating Much Revenue, and That’s a Good Thing

chi-speed-camera-20130809
Image: WGN

Yesterday’s Sun-Times piece on speed camera data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act focused on the fact that the cams haven’t brought in much cash for the city, assuming that must be a big disappointment for Mayor Emanuel. However, the real story is that the program seems to be doing an excellent job of reducing speeding.

As I’ve written many times, I really don’t care whether the cameras were intended as a money grab. If automated ticketing is successful in encouraging safe driving and punishing lawbreakers, any cash raised to patch the city’s budget hole is gravy.

The Sun-Times piece fixates on the fact that the 92 cameras placed near 43 parks and school have only generated $3.7 million in fines, and just $1.5 million of that revenue has been collected, since installation began in September. Emanuel projected they would raise $70 million, which would be earmarked for traffic safety and violence prevention efforts to protect kids, such as crossing guards and crosswalks, plus after-school and job-training programs.

But the low rate of ticketing suggests that the cameras are doing their most important job, encouraging motorists to respect the speed limit, which helps prevent injuries and deaths. The paper reports that the average number of drivers recorded speeding each day has dropped at almost every location, and there have been huge drops at some sites.

At a City Hall budget hearing in November, then-transportation chief Gabe Klein predicted as much. “I know there are a lot of skeptics out there, but it’s working, and the number of tickets is pretty small because we have so much education out there,” he said. “In some cases, speeding drops by 90 percent by the time tickets actually go out [after the warning period ends.]”

In fact, the average number of speeders per day dropped by 97 percent at McKinley Park, 2080 West Pershing, from 861 in September to only 28 in March. Horner, Challenger, Gompers, McKinley, Humboldt, Garfield, Marquette, Abbott, Riis and Gage parks have also seen declines of 93 percent or more.

Those are amazing numbers, but the Sun-Times paints the program as a failure:

The mayor has insisted his plan to put cameras in up to 300 locations is about saving lives, not raising sorely needed revenue. Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, Emanuel’s words are likely to prevail. That would blow a hole in the city’s 2014 budget at a time when cash-strapped Chicago can least afford it.

While tens of millions of dollars in ticket money would have been a great windfall for youth safety programs, preventing crashes is the far more important function of the cameras. Furthermore, collisions that kill and injure people and damage property are very expensive for the city. It’s entirely possible that, by preventing crashes, the cams will provide more than $70 million in savings in first responder, hospital, and infrastructure repair bills, and other monetary costs associated with Chicago’s speeding epidemic.

  • what_eva

    I wonder what Aldercreature Hairston thinks of this? How can speeding cameras be working when they need better signage?

  • Shlabotnik

    Does anyone know how much the speed camera cost to install/costs to operate?

  • Ryan Lakes

    Well put.

  • Anne A

    Do you have any numbers from 115th St. and 127th St. at the Major Taylor Trail?

  • Thanks!

  • Per the Sun-Times:

    “Somewhat surprisingly, the speed camera generating the most fines was not the first, according to data provided to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.”

    “It’s located at 445 W. 127th Street, along the Major Taylor Bike
    Trail. That camera went live on Nov. 30, but it has already generated
    $289,025 in fines — $79,612 of them paid — after spewing out 2,696 $100 tickets and 555 tickets at $35 a pop. That followed 55,260 warning notices.”

  • Anne A

    Whoever was surprised by that has never spent time trying to cross 127th at that location. Outstanding.

  • kastigar

    Why doesn’t the Sun-Times allow any comments on the story? Don’t they discussion on how well the cameras are working?

  • Adam Herstein

    I wonder what the reaction from those who think that the cameras are just a cash-grab will be.