2/16/2011Texas: ATS Sues City For Insufficient Red Light Camera Ticketing
Red light camera company sues Baytown, Texas over results of anti-camera referendum.
Traffic camera vendor American Traffic Solutions showed no municipal love as it filed a breach of contract suit against Baytown, Texas on Monday. The St. Valentine's Day complaint accused the city of failing to approve the mailing of an expected number of red light camera citations generated by the company.
According to court filings, ATS generated 2420 tickets in November 2010, and the city accepted all but 425 -- an 82 percent approval rate. The next month, ATS generated 2837 tickets, but the city only approved 587 -- a 21 percent rate. By January, the city had only approved two tickets. ATS insists that failure to allow the mailing of tickets constitutes material breach of a contract binding through the year 2019. For its part, the city is unable to approve any tickets because voters approved a referendum in November prohibiting the use of red light cameras unless a police officer is present to witness any alleged offense. ATS has refused to acknowledge this public vote.
"As you know, the entire purpose of the program is to automate the detection of red light runners without the necessity of relying upon personal observation by a peace officer," ATS lawyer Andy Taylor wrote. "That is why the agreement involves the city's use of the Axsis system 'only for the purpose of detecting a violation or a suspected violation of a traffic-control signal.' By changing the program to require personal observation of red light running by a peace officer, the city has unilaterally breached the material terms of the agreement."
The city countered that ATS is not entitled to any compensation because the company has breached the contract.
"On November 15, 2010, the voters of the city of Baytown, through the initiative process, enacted an ordinance which altered the law regarding automated red light enforcement systems," interim City Manager Robert D. Leiper wrote. "According to the new law, a peace officer must witness the violation in order for a civil penalty to be assessed. This new requirement imposed by law does not eliminate the automated red light traffic enforcement system in Baytown but merely adds another step which must be satisfied for notices of violations to be issued. ATS agreed in Section 12 of the agreement that it 'shall at all times comply with... all local laws, ordinances and regulations...' but has failed to date to comply with this new law."
To add insult to injury, Baytown sent ATS a bill on January 25 demanding $4946 to cover the firm's share of the cost of red light camera ticket refunds. ATS turned to a Harris County judge to ask for a trial that would settle whether the company can recover the full amount of its investment in the Baytown program. Byron Schirmbeck, who led the initiative petition effort as director of saferbaytown.com, says this case is proof that the camera program has always been about the money, not safety.
"I sincerely hope that any city considering entering into a contract with a photo enforcement corporation contacts the city of Baytown to see what kind of headache they will be facing if they decide to get in bed with this organization, and then the cameras are forced out with a vote," Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. "The profits you make won't be worth it."