MILLBRAE (KPIX 5) — There’s nothing like a red light camera ticket that makes drivers angry. In fact, cities across the country and even here in California are putting the brakes on them because of complaints that they’re just revenue generators. But that’s not stopping one Bay Area city that runs one of the most ticket producing red light cameras in the state.
Several of the red light cameras are located at the Millbrae avenue exit from southbound 101, strategically located next to a BART parking lot and just down the road from a rental car return for San Francisco International Airport.
“That is a real hotspot,” said Jim Lissner.
He monitors red light camera programs on his website www.highwayrobbery.net, and says last summer the number of tickets issued at the intersection skyrocketed. “From approximately 40 tickets a month to 600 tickets a month. I don’t know of another current hotspot like that anywhere in California,” he said.
Among the drivers nailed, Gina Pera. “I didn’t even see them,” she said. Weeks later the ticket came in the mail. “What I immediately saw first was a picture of me with my sunglasses on, taken through the windshield.”
Caught in the act of not stopping before turning right, illegal under state traffic laws. “A California stop is what it’s called,” she said. The fine: $500. And we saw a lot of cars doing it. “It’s easy pickings. I imagine for the city it’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” she said.
“I would look at the other side of it,” said Sgt. Rick Decker. He is a spokesperson for the San Mateo police department that runs Millbrae’s red light program. “There’s a lot of traffic there, BART makes for a lot of foot traffic, a lot of pedestrians. So in fact it’s probably the right place for them to be,” he said.
He says the number of tickets went up because a hit and run accident damaged the old camera last April. So the red light company, American Traffic Solutions based in Arizona, installed a new and improved one.”When we noticed the increase in violations we started working with ATS to start scrutinizing more and more of this data, making sure that we were capturing explicit and obvious violators of the law,” said Sgt. Decker.
So after skyrocketing from 7 tickets in April to over 600 in May with the new camera, numbers dropped for a few months. Then in October they shot right back up to close to 500 a month, many for rolling rights.
Though that infraction may sound minor Sgt. Decker makes the case: Rolling rights are in fact potentially dangerous.He showed us some examples: “As a driver your attention is going to be on the left, because just like we learned in Drivers Ed your first threat or danger is going to come from this direction. But our attention is away from these two pedestrians who potentially could be stepping into this crosswalk.”
He says it’s not a robotic process: Two retired police officers review each video carefully before issuing a ticket.He showed us another example where a car rolled through. It’s technically a violation, but then the driver stopped and looked around before proceeding. “They allow at least for themselves to safely merge in that way. So this is an example of there may not be a citation issued, because again we don’t deal with half way, we deal with clear cut violations.
Gina’s not buying it. “It’s a regressive tax on poor people and working people it needs to be called out and it needs to be stopped,” she said.
Millbrae’s revenue from 3 red light camera intersections last year was just under $653,000. That’s after paying the red light company over $300,000.
Jim Lissner meanwhile is compiling a rough list comparing red light camera cities ticket numbers. He provided us with this first draft exclusively for KPIX5.