Charlotte will kill traffic camera programs

Charlotte officials have decided to kill its contract with a Maryland company running the city's SafeLight and SafeSpeed traffic camera programs.

The termination will take effect by the end of the month, Assistant City Manager Keith Parker said today. It means the city will have to pay Traffipax Inc. $490,090 for ending the contract early.

It also means the city may have to pay Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools $4.6 million to make up for traffic camera collections the N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled must go to local school systems.

The ruling in May, in a case from High Point, specified that 90 percent of the proceeds from citations issued through the cameras must go to school systems. Until the city suspended the camera programs in June, about 75 percent of the proceeds went to the company operating them.

SafeLight, with 20 cameras installed at high-risk intersections, has operated since 1998. SafeSpeed, which has three vans in 14 traffic corridors using radar to track speeders, began in 2003. The programs have been hailed as effective tools against speeders and reckless drivers.

The city suspended the programs because of the appeals court ruling, with the cameras continuing to run but the city not issuing citations.

In the months since, city officials have tried to work out an alternate arrangement with Mecklenburg County and CMS while Traffipax continued to operate the cameras, Parker said. But the school board has decided to wait instead for the Supreme Court to rule on the High Point case, Parker said.

The company, which has lost an estimated $20,000 per month in running the cameras since the suspension, asked the city recently to pay half the operating costs if the suspension continued. City officials instead decided to terminate the contract.

The $4.6 million is the money the city would have paid CMS over the last three years had it routed 90 percent of the proceeds to the schools. The city and CMS have agreed that Charlotte will hold on to the money pending the Supreme Court decision; if the city must pay, it can cover about $2.5 million with program reserves, but the rest would come from the city general fund, Parker said.

If the Supreme Court rules against the Court of Appeals decision, the city will immediately seek to have the programs reinstated, Parker said.

Police say the programs have directly led to reductions in red-light runners and speeders on dangerous streets, producing tens of thousands of citations: in 2005, 43,027 from SafeSpeed, 25,467 from SafeLight.