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Task Force to Study Red-Light Program

By T.J. Wilham
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Mayor Martin Chávez, saying the city's red-light camera program is not "delivering on its promises," will appoint a task force to consider scrapping it.
    Chávez is expected to announce today that he has formed a nine-member independent task force to look at every aspect of the program.
    The task force will include, among others: two lawmakers, a representative from Metropolitan Court, the City Council president and one council-designee.
    The panel will report to the mayor and councilors before the start of the legislative session in January.
    "Folks either love these things or hate them, and more and more people just hate them," Chávez said in a telephone interview Friday from Chicago, where he was attending a conference. "I am not seeing the reduction in accidents that justify the headache and the controversy."
    The city launched the program in October 2004 at two Northeast Heights intersections. Initially, it was designed to catch drivers who run red lights.
    The program has since expanded to 20 intersections, and most cameras are also catching speeders. The city has added three camera-equipped vans to catch speeders as well. Chávez on Friday acknowledged that the program could be a "political liability." He announced last month that he was seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici.
    "If we have a policy that is not liked and not working, certainly that is a political liability," Chávez said. "It is not the only issue on my municipal plate. I want to make sure that it does not deflect other things we have accomplished."
    The cameras have been constroversial because they are a huge moneymaker for the city, but their ability to reduce accidents has been questionable.
    As of June 30, the city had netted more than $5.8 million from the program.
    For months, APD had claimed a 30 percent to 40 percent decrease in crashes at red light camera intersections during 2006. But according to data obtained from APD by the state Public Regulation Commission, accidents near some of those intersections increased.
    As a result, an APD spokesman last June conceded that he didn't know whether crashes decreased at red-light camera intersections in 2006. He said the department was conducting an analysis to answer that question. The analysis has yet to be completed.
    "I want to see the safety in it, and we are just not seeing it," Chávez said. "Not in the percentages we were hoping for."
    The size of the fines has also been a target, even though councilors ordered a reduction in May. City Councilor Ken Sanchez this month proposed reducing some of the fines even further.
    Under his proposal, fines for drivers caught on camera running a red light would drop from $100 to $69 for a first offense. Drivers caught speeding more than 10 mph over the limit would face a fine of $74, instead of $100.
    His legislation would not change the fine for a second offense, which is $200, or a third offense at $300.
    Chávez said the task force will answer questions such as:
   
  • Are the cameras reducing accidents?
       
  • What should be done with the revenue?
       
  • Should the program be scrapped?
       
  • Should fines be reduced?
        "The recommendations of the task force will be very important to me," he said. "If they come back and say get rid of it, I would accept it."