Albemarle’s Red Light Camera Income Ledger

It’s been tough to understand how things are going, financially, for Albemarle County’s red light camera at the Rio/29 intersection, because the stories have conflicted. In September, CBS-19’s Rachel Ryan reported that it wasn’t making any money:

“It’s not a revenue maker for us,” [Sgt. Darrell Byers] explained. “It’s actually about safe driving habits. That’s what we’re out there for, that’s what the cameras are out there for and that’s what we want to see.”

That’s good because Byers says revenue from ticketing has yet to match the $10,000 monthly cost of operating the cameras.

But then, last week, NBC-29’s Henry Graff reported that the county is making lots of money off of the outsourced justice system:

New numbers show that the controversial red light cameras in Albemarle County are keeping drivers safe. Those same numbers also reveal that the project is a cash cow for a county strapped for dough.

Police and county supervisors point out the cameras are to make the intersection of Rio Road and Route 29 safe. That’s priority one, but the extra $82,000 – to date – is pretty nice as well.

So, which is it? To clear things up, I asked Albemarle County Community Relations Director Lee Catlin to send me the data. This is a PDF of the helpful document that she sent me, and here it is boiled down to the basics of the number of citations, estimated income (based on the number of citations), and net income, by month:

Month # Est $ Net $
Dec 322 $16,100 $0*
Jan 574 $28,700 $0*
Feb 484 $24,200 $1,390
Mar 588 $29,400 $12,314
Apr 637 $31,850 $8,643
May 711 $35,550 $12,505
Jun 558 $27,900 $10,692
Jul 562 $28,100 $9,759
Aug 542 $27,100 $13,492
Sep 383 $19,150 $13,992
Oct 217 $10,850 $0***

* Not enough fines collected to reach RedFlex’s $10,000 threshold.
** Redflex advises the month of September figures were higher than normal due to more fees collected from delinquent accounts.
*** System down because of damage to sensors due to VDOT repaving. Only $8,167.67 in fines were collected, which was not enough to cover the monthly payment. That payment will roll over until enough fines are collected to make up the difference. The county is not responsible for paying the difference.

So that’s $82,769 that Albemarle County has made to date, with the remainder of the money—the $10,000 monthly fee—going to RedFlex, the Australian company that owns the cameras. That’s the source of the gap between the gross and the net. (You can read the county’s contract with RedFlex, if you’re interested about the specifics of the agreement.)

I don’t know what was up with CBS-19’s story—whether Ryan just got the story wrong or Sgt. Byers was giving her bad information—but it sure looks like Graff got this one right.

15 thoughts on “Albemarle’s Red Light Camera Income Ledger”

  1. The ‘net’ is net from RedFlex, not net from the red light program. There’s an unaccounted for cost of the two officers dedicated to reviewing the citations proposed by RedFlex.

    Probably close to a break-even proposition.

  2. Spend 0.000000000001% of military budget on an American engineered, American made solution. Provide tech and materials to states. Create jobs. Offer it at a low cost with the stipulation city/town operators are locally employed reviewing snapshots from a national (or state) web server. Create local jobs and revenues. Voila! A better approach to the problem.
    We are the *United States* of America, aren’t we?

  3. Thanks Christian, My sentiments exactly . And how many times in this last election cycle did you hear local politicians talk about the need for jobs in our country ?

  4. Right. Next, the US sells the solution throughout the world like the French, Germans and Japanese do with high-speed trains… Makes sense, since we are so committed to cars and trucks, no?

  5. The ‘net’ is net from RedFlex, not net from the red light program.

    That’s an important distinction that I implied, but didn’t state, so I’ve added a sentence that states that directly. Thanks for calling that up, Mark.

  6. “Only $8,167.67 in fines were collected, which was not enough to cover the monthly payment. That payment will roll over until enough fines are collected to make up the difference. The county is not responsible for paying the difference.”

    Waldo, I could easily be reading this incorrectly, but: we cannot cover the monthly payment because we didn’t earn enough. so we roll over that monthly difference until we have earned enough. so, aren’t we being somewhat forced to pay the difference?

    granted, if we never earn enough we’ll never pay. but the first time Alb Co. collects a monthly ‘profit’ it goes to paying back fees that were rolled over?

    I’m not sure I follow my own point, but hopefully you or others will.

  7. First, there is the math. In the NBC-29 story it says “From December 2010 through October of this year, a series of red light cameras at the intersection of Route 29 and Rio Road has brought in more than $273,000. Take out the $9,400 monthly rental fee for the system and the county nets almost $83,000.”

    Okay, $9,400(the exact amount is actually $9,480) a month times 11 months (Dec. 2010 through October 2011) equals $103,400 to Redflex. If the cameras brought in $273,000, and you subtract the $103,400, that’s $169,600. So how did the county take in only $83,000?

    Second, the county has a no-risk “cost neutrality” agreement with Redflex. There is no “roll over” of the monthly payment. While RedFlex charges a fixed monthly payment of $9,480 for two “approaches,” if the cameras were to only generate $6,000 in monthly ticket revenue, the county would only pay RedFlex $6,000. The required roll over for October is likely due to the mistake that VDOT made damaging the sensors.

    This is data I double-confirmed with Sgt. Beyers in September:

    Between December 11, 2010 and July 31, 2011, the cameras generated 7,638 tickets.

    3,202 of the tickets were rejected, either by RedFlex, the Australian company that operates the cameras, which first receives the video and photo data, or by County police, who review the data before tickets are mailed. Reasons for a rejection include blurred images or other inconclusive evidence.

    Minus the $9,480 that goes to RedFlex each month, the County hauled in $155,440 in seven months, roughly $22,205 per month at two approaches to the intersection, while RedFlex hauled in $66,360.

    So, during the 7-month study period, County police issued 4,436 tickets at a rate of 700 to 1,000 a month. At $50 a ticket, that represents $221,800 in revenue.

    Here’s my September story:

    I am no math wizard, and if anyone can tell me if there is anything wrong with my facts, I’m all ears.


  8. Waldo left out an important column: “difference” to county. A quick glance at this column on the pdf

    Waldo has renamed “Expected Revenue” as “Gross”. Asking for money (by sending out a ticket) is not the same as receiving the money. It looks like Redflex passes money on only after they receive it: not when it’s requested. Accrual vs. cash basis accounting.

    From the comments on the pdf, when collections fees are involved in receiving payment, those fees are deducted from the payment passed on to the county.

    I know. Clear as mud.

  9. Waldo has renamed “Expected Revenue” as “Gross”. Asking for money (by sending out a ticket) is not the same as receiving the money.

    I thought I was simplifying things—clearly not! :) I started making a few changes, but didn’t want to dig myself in deeper, so I simply retitled the field, so “Gross” became “Est. Income,” with a bit of clarifying text above. Ironically, I published this data direct-like in order to skip the interpretation that had been problematic in some of the past coverage…and then I went and simplified it and wound up committing the same sin. :)

    My hope, of course, was that by having a bunch of people look at this, that we might all be able to benefit from the observations of smart people. Luckily, despite my best efforts, that’s how it’s working out. Thanks for such interesting remarks, folks—especially yours, Dave.

  10. Sorry I posted in haste with incomplete sentences yesterday.

    The real pixie dust is not delineated on the document. Estimated revenue is violators x $50. Don’t fines double after a certain period of time? Exactly what are the collections costs? What’s utterly incomplete is how many expenses & for what appear between the moment revenue is estimated and the time revenue shows up in the form of a check for the County.

    Y’all aren’t math challenged: the document mixes up two different ways of looking at the thing and doesn’t really tell anyone when it changes from one POV to another.

  11. Another thing that is interesting: it looks like Redflex collects its monthly fee on a cash basis: were enough tickets paid in the month for them to deduct $9480?

    If, for instance, everyone in Albemarle decided to pay the tickets from these cameras only in the months of April & November, Redflex would only get $18,960 per year for the things (rather than $113,760).

    Of course, they’d have all the pixie dust expenses to shovel into their pockets, so it may not be a worth-while experiment. At least not from the point of view of the county taxpayers.

  12. That’s a good point about fine date vs. payment date, Barbara. I’ll try and remember to look through the contract to see what the story is with that.

  13. Here’s a few more thoughts…

    Actually getting the money is a whole other quagmire involving the legal system. Typically, a live officer hands you a ticket, with information about pre-paying the fine, challenging it court, etc…but what happens when all this comes in the mail? What if you don’t get it?

    Of course, you also have a right to appeal the ticket. And who is to say you were the one driving the car?

    For instance, when one challenges a ticket in court the ticketing officer is usually required to attend. Oftentimes, when an officer doesn’t show, a judge will dismiss the case. But what if the ticketing officer is a red light camera? If a red light ticket is challenged, how is the Commonwealth to successfully prove that you were the one driving the car when no officer was present?

    Going through a red light is considered a traffic infraction in Virginia, but it could also become a misdemeanor or even a felony if the driver hits another car, hurts or kills someone, flees the scene, or if the driver is DUI, without a license or insurance, etc. What then?

    Also, why isn’t running a red light considered Reckless Driving under Virginia Code? Failure to yield right-of-way is, and so is failing to give proper signals. Could it be that that would make running a red light a Class 1 misdemeanor and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to simply send a ticket/summons by mail?

  14. “what happens when all this comes in the mail? What if you don’t get it?”

    and whether true or not, isn’t ‘failure to receive the ticket by mail’ so much more realistic after the audit of the Richmond-area USPS site?

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