(Houston - Pat Hernandez, KUHF News) Houston's red light cameras are now officially switched off, but the controversy surrounding the traffic enforcement measure is far from over. The city has filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to determine liability with the contractor that operates the cameras.
Proponents of the devices say the technology saves lives by deterring would-be red light runners, while those behind the anti-red camera campaign argue the cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions and are more about making money than about safety. The cameras went dark after the votes were canvassed from the November 2nd election. Of all the ballots cast, 53.2 percent rejected Houston's red light camera program. For many spectators, the final results came as a surprise, as a pre-election poll showed far more support for the cameras than opposition.
City attorney David Feldman told the mayor and council that two things happened after the votes from the election were confirmed: "I sent a formal notice to ATS, advising that the cameras were to be turned off. In addition, at the very same time, the city filed in federal district court against American Traffic Solutions, seeking a declaratory judgment as to the rights and obligations of the parties under the contract."
The city is seeking judgment on how much damages it needs to pay under the contract, which is set to expire in 2014. Feldman says by taking it to federal court, it took the politics out of the issue. He says he's confident "that a federal judge will determine the rights and obligations of the parties under the contract, and that at the end of the day the city will be in the best legal position."
Arizona-based ATS, the firm that manages Houston's system, issued this statement: "As disappointed at we are with the results, we respect the outcome of the election and will now work with the city to find a fair and reasonable solution to resolving outstanding issues."
Attorney Michael Kubosh, who has been an ardent opponent of the cameras, attended the special council meeting. He helped organize a petition to put the question on the ballot. Kubosh ran a red light a while back because he wanted to challenge the constitutionality of its use in court.
He says he felt like a "patriot" when he ran the light in front of the police. Kubosh says he was "doing something that needed to be done" and was pleased that the majority of Houston voters cast their ballots against the cameras. "They believed it wasn't about safety, they believed it was about money, and they stood with us and they voted it," Kubosh said.
Mayor Annise Parker agrees with Kubosh that the people have spoken--but says safety is at risk: "I absolutely believe today as I did before the election that red light cameras save lives, and I know for a fact that we have an epidemic of red light runners here in Houston, and everyone understands that running a red light can cause extreme risks to people proceeding through an intersection."
It's estimated that $25 million dollars remain uncollected in fines from citations that were issued before the cameras were turned off. Mayor Parker says the city plans to to aggressively go after those violators.
Listen to the story here.