JEFFERSON CITY - Over 17 different Missouri cities operate red light cameras, but the financing and enforcement does not operate uniformly.
The two main differences that vary from city to city deal with the criteria for citations and the payment to the companies owning and operating the cameras.
For citations, some cities like Columbia require that there be a photo of the driver of the car and the car itself that runs a red light, while other cities like Kansas City just need photos of the car and license plate. When it comes to payments, not only does the amount of the fine vary from city to city, but how much the company gets varies too.
In Kansas City, American Traffic Solutions owns and operates the red light cameras. It receives $4,500 per month per camera from the city as long as the money raised exceeds that amount. Since the implementation in January, it has invoiced Kansas City $520,000 from 37,726 violations for their 29 cameras, according to a Kansas City Public Works release.
St. Louis also uses American Traffic Solutions, and it owns and operates the red light cameras. There, the company receives $31.33 for each $100 citation issued, according to Executive Director for City Operations Ron Smith. Since the cameras' implementation in May 2007, the company has collected $3,099,539 from 102,859 paid citations, Smith said.
While the payment process for Kansas City and St. Louis differ, the methods of data collection, installation and maintenance of the cameras are the same, Regional Manager of American Traffic Solutions Jason Norton said. For each city, temporary cameras are installed for eight to twenty-four hours in order for the company and city to study which intersections cause the most problems. From there, the company installs the cameras without charge to the cities.
In order to issue a citation, the company gets two photos -- one before going out into the intersection and another in the intersection -- and a 12-second video of the car. The video, Norton said, is to make sure there are no extenuating circumstances forcing a car into the intersection that aren't caught on the photos. After reviewing the information and enlarging the license plate in the photo, the information is sent to the licensing office and local police department for further review.
"The beauty of the system is that the camera is objective. No matter who you are, you get a ticket," Norton said.
While much of the process is the same in Columbia, the information given to the owner and city are different.
According Gatso USA President and co-founder Andrew Noble, their cameras in Columbia are "unique" in what they offer to a city because his company's violation notices present the owner with photos of the driver and vehicle along with a 17-point data bar with information such as time the light has been red, time of day, date and how long the yellow light was.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, has said his biggest issue with the red light cameras have to deal with the payments to the companies. Crowell said he has a problem with systems such as St. Louis and Columbia, where a percentage of each ticket goes to the company because there are no other contingency fees for other policing tools.
Noble said companies like his earn that money because they front the funds needed for initial installation and maintenance. Each camera that is installed at an intersection costs Gatso USA $100,000, which comes at no cost to the city, he said. American Traffic Solutions operates under a similar system where each camera can cost anywhere from $80,000-$100,000 for its creation, installation and maintenance, Norton said.
The cameras are an asset for the cities, Smith said, because they promote safety.
In St. Louis, the red light cameras have been a "good public safety initiative to make our intersections safer," Smith said, and data has already shown a marked improvement in the city when it comes to running red lights.
A similar sentiment is echoed by Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser.
"The idea is to prevent or reduce the number of accidents at intersections," he said, but he also said it has highlighted the massive amount of disregard for red lights that currently exists.
Funkhouser said that while there may be bugs in the system that need to be worked out, he is pleased with the results.