AAA watching Abington as red-light cameras readied for use

Red-light cameras at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road in Philadelphia. AAA is voicing concerns that the cost of the cameras may push Abington to write more tickets.
Red-light cameras at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road in Philadelphia. AAA is voicing concerns that the cost of the cameras may push Abington to write more tickets. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 25, 2013

ABINGTON The AAA Mid-Atlantic office, which covers the Philadelphia region, issued a news release this week that reads more like a hard-charging policy paper from a think tank than the traditional price-at-the-pump and road-hazards missives from the folks you call to tow your car.

The fuel for the AAA's ire are red-light cameras in Pennsylvania - an issue set to expand beyond Philadelphia as Abington Township in Montgomery County gets ready to install them at a trio of hazardous intersections.

"AAA has learned that Abington received PennDot approval in early October for their plans to become the first suburban location in Pennsylvania to have red light cameras," the release reads. "The cameras could be installed by the end of the year - but to cover costs, the cameras need to generate more tickets than the famously busy, hazardous intersection of Roosevelt Boulevard and Grant Avenue in Philadelphia."

Philadelphia has had red-light cameras since 2005, many of them along Roosevelt Boulevard. Because of its size, the city was the only jurisdiction in the state that could use red-light cameras until last year, when Gov. Corbett signed a bill expanding the program.

Abington is leading the way with an initial one-year contract for cameras at three junctions - Moreland Road (Route 63) and Fitzwatertown Road, Old York Road (Route 611) and Susquehanna Road, and Old York Road at Old Welsh Road.

Drivers caught on camera running a red light will be fined $100 - no points will accrue on their license - and AAA fears the math won't add up for Abington and others.

The township signed a one-year contract with a Massachusetts-based vendor, Gatso Inc., to run the program at a monthly rate of $4,200 per camera. The contract requires Gatso to absorb the difference between the monthly fee and what the township might get back from the state as a result of the fines.

"There are 10 total cameras planned, so the total for the vendor would be $42,000 monthly, or $504,000 per year," the AAA statement said. "At a $100 state-mandated fine per violation, there would be 5,040 violations needed per year to cover the costs. This is more than the number of red light camera tickets issued last year at the Boulevard and Grant Avenue, which had 4,721 red light camera violations in 2012."

That could lead to greater pressure to give tickets and cover the program's costs, said Jenny M. Robinson, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The group also wants to make sure that cameras are a last resort and that motorists are told the rules associated with them.

"The point is to look at all the things you can do, not just throw in red light cameras as the entire solution," Robinson said.

Abington Township Police Deputy Chief Michael Webb agreed with much of what Robinson said. The township did make sure that crosswalks, signs, and other measures were working. The three intersections were chosen to get cameras, he said, because there is nowhere for officers to park their cruisers and do traditional enforcement without getting in the way of traffic.

Township officials also made the contract for one year, at which point they will examine whether the cameras have been effective. Safety is the concern, Webb said, not the financial aspect.

Meanwhile, the harder-edged tone of AAA missives will be used again as it continues to look at issues affecting motorists.

"We're certainly getting out there with some of these issues more," Robinson said.


cdavis@phillynews.com

610-313-8109

@carolyntweets

www.inquirer.com/montcomemo

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