Are red light cameras a cash grab? Some councillors say yes

The city is spending money to hire two new staff for a supposed safety measure that some councillors say is a cash grab.

About one-fifth of those fined are fighting them

The number of people charged with red-light cameras in Hamilton has increased by 110 per cent in the last five years. But about 20 per cent of people are fighting them. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The city is spending money to hire two new staff for a supposed safety measure that some councillors say is a cash grab.

The city will spend $210,000 to hire two prosecutors to deal with an increase in Provincial Offences Act court cases, many of them to do with red light cameras.

There’s been a 110-per cent increase in tickets from red light cameras in the last five years, said city solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski. That’s poised to increase as the city adds six more cameras this year. And about one-fifth of people fought them in 2013.

The camera charges are a large part of why the city needs two more staff members, she said. But it will pay for itself.

Each of the six new cameras will bring about $260,000 more in revenue a year, a roughly 50-per cent increase in red light camera charges, Atwood-Petkovski’s report said. And the prosecutors’ salaries will only be $94,000 each.

Councillors narrowly approved the new prosecutors at a general issues committee meeting on Wednesday with a 6-4 vote. Coun. Robert Pasuta of Ward 14 in Flamborough voted against it, calling red light cameras as “a cash cow” for the city.

“We don’t talk a whole lot about public safety,” he said. “We talk about generating income from the red lights. Then we turn around and have to hire two new staff.”

CBC Hamilton recently looked at four years of data, comparing the number of red light camera fines with the number of collisions. The city took in some $5 million in fines in 2013, but collisions over a five-year period didn’t drop after the $100,000 cameras were installed. In some cases, they went up.

But Atwood-Petkovski says studies show that red light cameras do improve safety — sometimes by 20 per cent or more.

The province has also analyzed red light camera data and found that they improve public safety, said Ron Sabo, assistant city solicitor.

The number of people disputing Provincial Offences Act charges has increased in the last three years.

In 2011, there were 88,575 charges, and 12,276 were disputed, amounting to 14 per cent. There were $9,043,352 in gross fines resulting in $5,845,372 in net revenue for the city that year.

In 2012, 16,518 of the 97,474 charges laid were disputed, or 17 per cent. Gross fines amounted to $10,577,679, or $7,356,465 in net revenue.

That number rose to 20 per cent in 2013, when 20,321 of 99,266 charges were disputed. There was $11,122,251 in fines laid, amounting to $7,324,727 in net revenue for the city.


Councillors opposed: Brenda Johnson, Lloyd Ferguson, Robert Pasuta, Scott Duvall

Councillors in favour: Chad Collins, Tom Jackson, Sam Merulla, Bob Morrow, Jason Farr, Brian McHattie