Red light revenue
SUFFOLK COUNTY—As you might have heard by now, the red light cameras in Suffolk County are staying for at least another year.
In response to the move, the Republican caucus of the Legislature has unanimously objected to the extension of a contract with Conduent Inc., a New Jersey-based tech company, to provide services for the county’s red light camera program.
The seven-member GOP caucus signed a letter addressed to deputy county executive Peter Scully, chairman of the county’s RFP Committee, objecting to the approval of county executive Steve Bellone’s request to waive the county’s standard RFP process and instead enter directly into a contract with Conduent Inc.
The RFP Waiver Committee consists of two members appointed by the county executive, a Democrat, and one member representing the Legislature’s presiding officer, also a Democrat. GOP officials say the makeup of the committee “virtually guarantees that waiver requests issued by the county executive are approved.”
Minority leader Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) says the standard request for proposal process limits the “potential for corruption” and ensures that taxpayers get the “best deal possible.”
“Regardless of how you feel about the red light cameras,” Cilmi added, “county executive Bellone is handing out a contract worth tens of millions of dollars without sending out an RFP, without competitive bids, and without scrutiny of the full Legislature.”
“It’s a shame that Tom Cilmi and the minority caucus are once again playing politics with public safety,” said a spokesperson for the county executive in response to these criticisms.
Cilmi, in his letter, highlighted a number of concerns with the red light camera program itself. He pointed to data, gathered from Suffolk County, indicating a significant increase in accidents at some locations where red light cameras have been installed.
Forty-one locations (out of 100), in 2016, reported an increase in total accidents, with 34 locations reporting an increase in right-angle crashes. Sixty-nine locations also had increases in rear-end collisions, while 42 locations reported higher injuries as a result of accidents.
“In light of public safety, we have repeatedly called for the removal of cameras at these locations, but our requests have fallen on deaf ears,” Cilmi wrote in his letter.
The same data, though, shows that 58 locations reported a drop in total accidents, with 65 locations reporting a drop in right-angle crashes. Twenty-seven locations also had decreases in rear-end collisions, while 56 locations reported fewer injuries as a result of accidents.
Cilmi also addressed allegations that yellow light timings have been adjusted downward at red light camera intersections in an effort to maximize revenue.
“Like many assertions from opponents of this public safety program, this is patently false,” said the executive’s spokesperson in response to these allegations.
Cilmi stated that the county is generating tens of millions of dollars from the red light camera program, much of it from drivers cautiously making rights on red.
“Despite the threat of a fine, reckless drivers are still speeding through red lights,” Cilmi added. “There are ways to engineer safer intersections and minimize the number of right-angle crashes without the negative impacts associated with this program, yet our suggestions are being ignored. We believe it’s all about the revenue.”
Despite saying there are significant problems with the right light cameras, Cilmi told this publication he wouldn’t want to see the program discontinued entirely. He says one of the biggest issues he and his Republican colleagues have with the program is what they consider to be a lack of transparency when it comes to the RFP Committee.
“Any contract that involves tens of millions of dollars, as this program does should at every juncture be fully re-evaluated in the context of competition in an open and transparent way,” Cilmi said. “Why should we waive a process that is designed to prevent corruption and deliver the best value for our taxpayers?”
The executive’s spokesperson confirmed that the program generates close to $20 million per year for the county.
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