Red-faced: Red-light camera company caught in bribery scandal
The red-light cameras that Albemarle County installed at the intersection of Route 29 and Rio Road in 2011 have caught thousands of red-light runners and generated thousands in ticket revenue. But according to a story first broken by the Chicago Tribune, representatives of the Australia-based company that operates the cameras, Redflex, have been caught red-handed bribing a Chicago transportation official. The company is now under federal investigation.
Following the Chicago bribery scandal, Redflex has also been losing contracts across the country. City officials in Orange County, Florida, San Rafael, California. Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, and Prescott, Arizona, who were considering using the systems, which nab red-light runners with still photography and video, have all decided against contracting with the company.
"I just don't think it's appropriate for us to congratulate a company that has this type of core value failure," Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer told the Chicago Tribune, before a 7-0 vote against Redflex. "The appearance, to me, is just dreadful, and appearances matter."
Here in Albemarle County, police and government officials were enthusiastic about the installation of the controversial cameras, claiming they would eventually make the troublesome intersection safer. According to Albemarle spokesperson Lee Catlin, the county will "continue to closely monitor the situation [with the Redflex bribery scandal] and consider our options, including termination of our contract should circumstances warrant," but there are no immediate plans to cut ties with Redflex and the red-light camera system.
"We haven't discovered any irregularities or concerns that negatively impact Albemarle County’s contractual relationship with Redflex," says Catlin.
However, Catlin says the county is "aware of the allegations involving two Redflex employees," and in light of that situation "have thoroughly reviewed our history and relationship with Redflex and received a full explanation from company regarding how they are responding."
According to the 2012 data, there has been a reduction in crashes due to red-light running, from 23 in 2010, before the cameras were installed, to 12 in 2011. However, compared to 2010, overall crashes at the intersection (which includes those not directly related to red-light running) since the cameras were installed actually increased in 2011.
Indeed, according to a 2007 Virginia Transportation Research Council study, determining the real effectiveness of the cameras can be elusive, as the findings could be turned on their heads by specific intersections that see a general increase in all types of crashes, regardless of the cameras. In Fairfax County, red-light running decreased at four camera intersections studied, but increased at five other intersections. "Every intersection is different," said one of the study's research scientists.
There has, however, been one clear bit of data: The cameras generate big bucks. In 2011, 6,187 red-light runners were nabbed at the 29/Rio intersection, generating $309,350 in gross ticket revenue. And keep in mind– that's with cameras at only two approaches to the intersection. In 2012, tickets issued dipped a bit to 5,656, but that's still $282,800 in gross revenue. The amount of money the cameras can generate, especially with a big-city contract, was at the heart of the Chicago scandal.
According to the Tribune, which broke the story, Redflex company officials allegedly were paying bribes to the Chicago city transportation official who oversaw the contract with the company, in the form of 17 all-expenses-paid vacation trips, including meals and golf. The company also paid a close friend of the transportation official $2 million in consulting fees, money that likely went to the transportation official.
And Chicago isn't the only place where there has been trouble. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, city officials voted to refund nearly $20 million in fines and shut down the program after a scandal involving a lobbyist who worked for Redflex, according to the Tribune.
Since then, the president of the Australia-based company has been appearing before community officials in person where contracts are being considered, trying to stop the bleeding on a scandal that has cost the company tens of millions in lost revenue.Read more on: red-light cameras