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Dec 29, 2009 6:21 AM by Letitia Walker

Red Light Cameras Make Money

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Illegal parkers and red light runners have
become a much-needed source of revenue in New Orleans.
With a budget so tight it has caused Mayor Ray Nagin to threaten
to reduce City Hall to a four-day work week and allow police cars
to go without repairs, New Orleans' red light cameras and parking
enforcement officers are paying off.
The cameras, in operation for a year and a half, are on pace to
earn nearly $10 million this year in penalties paid by motorists
caught on film speeding or running red lights. Parking ticket
collections have steadily increased since Hurricane Katrina, as
parking enforcement staffing returned to normal levels, and will
top $10.5 million by the end of 2009, The Times-Picayune reported
Monday.
Both programs are administered by the Public Works Department
and in past years, the money they generated was returned to the
department to re-stripe roads, repair drains and fill the potholes.
Despite the revenue, the programs are far from popular with
motorist.
Recent instances of what one resident termed "parking blitzes"
at special events have added to the perception that city officials
are seizing every opportunity for a quick injection of cash.
"If we don't go out there, we're not doing our job. But no one
wants us to do our job," said Public Works Director Robert
Mendoza.
The city's first red light cameras began snapping pictures in
April 2008. Now, 12 intersections - mostly along Carrollton Avenue
in Mid-City, St. Charles Avenue, in the Garden District and Poydras
Street in the Central Business District - are equipped with cameras
that provide evidence against both red-light runners and speeders.
Ten other cameras in school zones catch drivers who go above 20
mph when students are entering and leaving school and above the 35
mph posted limit the rest of the time. Three other speed-only
cameras not in school zones were installed earlier this year, and
Mendoza hopes to eventually add cameras to streets that are part of
the state highway system, such as Claiborne Avenue.
The cameras seem to be acting as a deterrent as drivers become
familiar with their locations. At some intersections, speeding
violations have fallen by 84 percent, Mendoza said.
"You expect to see a decreasing trend, but there's always some
floor of distracted drivers - people on cell phones, people who are
late," Mendoza said.
In New Orleans, the fine for a red light violation is $105,
while a speeding ticket costs from $40 to $200, depending on the
driver's speed. Violators are also assessed a $35 administration
fee and a $5 surcharge that goes to support the Orleans Parish
public defenders office.
Pre-Katrina, the New Orleans parking division wrote about
420,000 tickets a year.
In 2006, the number declined to 353,000, the result of both
fewer residents and fewer ticket-writers. Since then, the
division's staff has increased more than threefold, with about 50
officers now patrolling the streets. They're issuing around 360,000
citations a year, still below pre-storm levels, but enough to boost
revenues by more than 30 percent since 2007.

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