Eleven other Philadelphia-area suburbs also are eligible under a 2012 state law to install red-light cameras: Falls, Middletown and Warminster Townships in Bucks County; Springfield Township in Delaware County; and Norristown borough and Horsham, Lower Merion, Lower Providence, Montgomery, Upper Dublin, and Upper Merion Townships in Montgomery County.
Until last year, only Philadelphia was permitted by the state to use red-light cameras, generating plenty of money, as well as controversy.
In the last seven years, Philadelphia's cameras have caught 787,000 drivers running red lights, resulting in $72 million in fines collected.
More than half that money has gone to pay the camera company, American Traffic Solutions of Tempe, Ariz., and other expenses, leaving $33 million to be deposited into the state highway safety fund.
New Jersey has been trying out the cameras in a pilot program involving 83 intersections in 25 towns, including Cherry Hill, Gloucester Township, Stratford, Glassboro, Deptford, and Monroe Township in South Jersey.
About one-third of the fine revenue there has gone to pay the camera companies and other costs. Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey allows much of the profit to go to the communities where the cameras are installed.
In Cherry Hill, the township netted $1.8 million from 27,391 camera-generated tickets in the year ended July 31. It pays about $170,000 a year to its camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix.
"The financial benefits have been coupled with an overall reduction in the number of accidents at the intersection [Springdale Road and Route 70], and from our perspective, that's really the most important factor," Cherry Hill spokeswoman Bridget Palmer said.
There is an ongoing debate about the safety value of red-light cameras, with supporters arguing they make busy intersections safer by deterring motorists from running lights and hitting vehicles or pedestrians. They cite studies such as one by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that estimates red-light cameras saved 159 lives in 14 U.S. cities between 2004 and 2008.
Opponents say the cameras are simply revenue-generators that create more accidents by prompting drivers to slam on their brakes, leading to more rear-end crashes. They also cite studies, such as one by the Virginia Transportation Research Council, that concluded whether cameras reduced injury accidents "was too close to call."
But one thing seems certain: Over time, the number of violations - and the revenue - drops at intersections with red-light cameras as drivers change their behavior.
In Philadelphia, the number of red-light violations per camera-monitored intersection dropped from 8,916 in 2008 to 6,280 in 2012, a decline of 30 percent.
In New Jersey, violations dropped 50 percent from the beginning of the first year (35,644 fines per month) to the end of that year (17,934 fines per month).
Some towns had even steeper declines. Glassboro, for example, collected $186,235 on 2,191 tickets in July 2010 shortly after installing red-light cameras. Two years later, in July 2012, it collected $8,245 on 97 tickets. (By July 2013, collections had rebounded to $55,590 on 654 tickets.)
The monthly maintenance fee for Glassboro's cameras is $18,750.
Glassboro Police Chief Alex Fanfarillo, a proponent of the cameras, said, "If it costs more money than it's generating, yes, that could be a problem." But he said he doubted revenue would drop that low, and if it did, it would indicate improving safety.
AAA Mid-Atlantic this week questioned whether Abington's red-light camera program would catch enough red-light runners to pay for itself.
At $100 a ticket, Abington would need to collect 5,040 fines a year to cover the camera company's charges, said Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for AAA. That would be more than Philadelphia collected from "the famously busy, hazardous intersection" of Roosevelt Boulevard and Grant Avenue, which had 4,721 violations last year, she said.
"Is Abington's red-light camera program going to be busier than one of Philadelphia's most infamous intersections? That seems like a challenging goal to meet," Robinson said.
Abington's camera vendor, Gatso, has agreed to absorb any losses if the cameras don't catch enough violators. So Abington won't be on the hook for any shortfalls.
That makes it a no-lose proposition for the township, Police Chief William Kelly said.
"The financial end has nothing to do with it, as far as we're concerned," Kelly said. "We're doing it for one reason, and that's to improve safety at three of our most dangerous intersections."
If the number of violations drops so low it becomes a bad business proposition for Gatso, "that's good, because it means people are obeying the law," Kelly said.
"If that's the worst-case scenario, that's not a bad thing - it's a good thing."