Cameras put Union City in the red
Numerous problems plague stoplight system; loss estimated at $1 million
By Matthew Artz, STAFF WRITER
UNION CITY — A series of malfunctions afflicting Union City's red-light camera system is estimated to have cost the city more than $1 million.
Police projected that the cameras, installed at five intersections in July to nab red-light runners, would net the city $1 million from traffic tickets this fiscal year, said Administrative Services Director Rich Digre.
Instead, he reported to the City Council this week, Union City will lose $50,000.
A timing error with the lights cost the city nearly $500,000 in expected revenue last summer, but that was not the system's only malfunction, Digre said.
Shortly after the city in September lengthened the duration of yellow lights to meet state standards, the system's computer motherboard failed at several intersections, allowing at least hundreds of red-light runners to go unpunished.
It took the city's vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, about a month to detect the malfunction and another two weeks to repair it, Digre said. The cameras did not become fully functional until December.
"When the number of violations started falling off, I wondered if we all of a sudden had a great adherence to the law," Digre said. "Then the company apologized and said the equipment is malfunctioning."
Redflex has agreed to give the city a 25 percent rebate for nine months. The rebate, though, is significantly less than what the city would have garnered for red-light violations.
Union City pays Redflex $48,500 a month for use of the red-light cameras. The city collects $136 out of every $351-ticket issued.
The city had little recourse to demand a full refund from Redflex because there was no way to determine its losses accurately, police Capt. Brian Foley said.
"We can't base it on the original projections because those were done when the yellow lights
were too short," he said. City officials estimated that the camera program would cost $476,000 to operate, while generating $1.5 million from traffic tickets this fiscal year, which ends June 30. But as of the end of March, the city had collected $344,000 from red-light violations, Digre said.
Disappointing red-light ticket revenue has not drastically affected the city's budget outlook because better-than-anticipated property tax revenue has more than made up the difference.
Next year, city officials are projecting that the cameras will net the city $600,000. The estimate, Digre said, is based on assumptions that violations will decrease by about 60 percent but that the cameras will function for a full 12 months.
"I certainly hope the prediction for next year is accurate," Mayor Mark Green said at the council meeting.
Despite the malfunctions, city officials remain bullish on red-light cameras.
A sixth intersection, at Mission Boulevard and Tamarack Drive, will get cameras once Caltrans gives its approval — and the police still have faith in Redflex despite the computer glitch.
"Their product is the best we've seen out there," Foley said.
He added that police need more time to monitor the intersections before offering a definitive report on whether the cameras have improved safety.
Staff writer Matthew Artz covers Union City for the Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7003 or