Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Safe Highway Intersection Tip Test of 2011

There's been quite a debate over the increase in red-light cameras at Texas intersections. 

They are supposed to save lives, but Houston and College Station recently outlawed them. 

The company responsible for manufacturing, selling, and installing most of these is an outfit called ATS:

Millions of dollars paid by motorists in red light camera and speed camera fines end up in the pockets of a handful of individuals. In the United States, American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is responsible for about 41 percent of the nation's photo enforcement business, but as a private company its dealings are well concealed from public scrutiny. Based on a review of documents marked "confidential -- attorneys' eyes only," the ATS leadership team has reaped significant personal profit in a short amount of time.

"I paid through sweat equity of becoming a member of the leadership, and I made a financial investment in the company," former Wall Street analyst Adam Draizin explained in a December 3, 2009 deposition discussing his joining ATS in May 2004.

Draizin's contribution was $500,000 for which he earned an share equal to that of the company's other three partners. That investment paid off in a big way when Goldman Sachs became the largest shareholder in 2008 with a 30 percent stake. Draizin, John Petrozza, Adam Tuton, James Tuton each share an equal 16.7 percent stake. James Investment (Robert Alpert) held a 3 percent share.

Goldman paid $58 million for its slice of the automated ticketing industry, of which $45 million was invested in the company. The original four partners pocketed $3,250,000 each -- a six-fold return for Draizin, a Harvard Business School graduate. Goldman retains significant influence over the business. The deal required that ATS change from a subchapter S corporation to a C corporation, that Goldman representatives sit on the ATS board of directors and that the board meet on a quarterly basis.
So why would Houston and College Station outlaw this life-saving technology? 
Some drivers believe that the cameras aren't there to make the intersections safer.  The cameras are there to increase revenue. 

I can promise you that the ATS Sales Reps don't go into City Council meetings and start their pitches with how much safer they can make the busy crossroads of Abbott, Texas.  The ATS Sales Reps go into the room talking about Bringing In The Benjamins
Some cities don't even treat the fines as a moving violation.  In Arlington TX, the shakedown money fines don't show up on your driving record or appear on your insurance record.  Arlington just wants you to give them some money and forget about the incident.  No need to get worked up here, we're just trying to make a living....

Safety or revenue?  Will we ever know why the cameras are there? 
Don't we deserve to know? 
I propose that we lobby for the Safe Highway Intersection Tip Test 2011. 
The Safe Highway Intersection Tip Test (listed on ballot initiatives as SHIT Test 2011) would require that all intersections dangerous enough to merit a red-light camera be marked with the appropriate warning signs....

I had to make that one myself, using one of the sign-generator websites. 
Many areas already have something similar in place, although I've not seen them in Texas.  Chicago apparently has some like this:

So in the upcoming 2012 elections, be sure to ask everyone running for office if they care enough about our childrens' safety to support SHIT Test 2011. 

After all, if an intersection is dangerous enough to merit a camera, it is dangerous enough to merit some signs, right?

And ATS should pay for the privilege of installing them.


Harper said...

While your presentation is revenue vs safety (with a jibe at transparency thrown in), certainly there is an argument to be made for simply enforcing the law. Is it the method or the fact that a select few are getting rich off of it that presents the problem? If it is the latter, that seems to negate your positions on capitalism.

I, personally, like traffic cameras. Having lived in Germany, where they are used for speed control and red light violations - and receiving several vibrantly clear photos of myself breaking the law - I would say that they serve their purpose, which is catching speeders and red-light runners. This frees up the police to do more important work. I suppose there is an argument in there for big picture safety/crime prevention, but more important to me, there are fewer resources wasted when officers are working on solving or preventing real crimes, rather than parked in a squad car running radar. Of course, in my Utopia, the cops are actually serving and protecting, not shooting dogs and scaring children over half a bong hit of dope.

Nick Rowe said...

I read an article on Marginal Revolution about a scheme where revenue from speeders was allocated to people driving under the speed limit by lottery.

One commenter suggested (correctly, I think) that this scheme would increase congestion (lottery seekers) and therefore decrease safety.

I suggested that if the scheme worked perfectly, there would be no lottery revenue, and hence no lottery seekers. So the only relevant deterrent would be the penalty, not the reward.

I believe in laws with judgment. I think we all speed from time to time. I think most of us do 'California Stops' from time to time. Since speed limits are arbitrary, exceeding them isn't always unsafe.

We should have laws, make sure everyone knows them, generally enforce them, but use judgment whether the behavior is actually creating a risky situation. A virtual stop at an empty intersection with the driver looking in both directions is one thing, but a rolling stop with pedestrians and traffic nearby is quite another.

As far as traffic cams go, I'm with Harper. Merely walking four blocks to the bus stop, I can usually count at least 10 dangerous violations of traffic laws. A camera is merely an extension of a police officer's eyes. A camera is cheaper than hiring a police officer to stand on corners 24/7.

In California (and many states) it is illegal to record a conversation unless BOTH parties know it is being recorded. In other states, only ONE party of the conversation need know. In my opinion, all sights and sounds not shielded by walls exist in the public domain.

The eyes and ears are recording devices and the brain is a storage device. In fact, the brain and the senses are notoriously unreliable, and memory can be thwarted by lies. But photographs, video, and audio recordings cannot lie; there is only a risk of taking them out of context.

To me, justice is about truth. And there's no better way to learn the truth about dangerous driving than to have traffic cams. Having been falsely ticketed for parking and speeding on numerous occasions, I'd rather have a camera citing me than a police officer.

It is reprehensible, though, for a city to install cameras or enforce laws for the purpose of gaining revenue. San Francisco reduced street cleaning from weekly to biweekly to save money. But when ticket revenue dropped, they proposed reinstating weekly cleaning SOLELY for more revenue.

Now the city are marking cracks in sidewalks, forcing homeowners to pay for a permit to fix them. Most shocking is that the CITY owns the sidewalks, but the homeowners must maintain them. How sick is that!

The city just passed a bond measure to raise funds to repair our roads. BUT, we already pay taxes precisely for that purpose. Because the state and cities are in deficit, they're not repairing the roads. So the leftist sheeple agreed to pay more to fix a problem they have already paid to fix but haven't had the satisfaction of seeing fixed.