Cover Story: The Red-Light Camera Circus
Hot tip for all those cities considering a red-light camera program: Check out how Houston did it, and then do the exact opposite.
Houston's danse macabre with camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) may have botched the city's budget, business reputation, and credibility. Mayor Annise Parker flip-flopped on the issue at every turn. First, she allowed the very life pulse of the cameras to go to a vote; then, in accordance with the voice of the people, she turned them off. Threatened by ATS's damage estimate in the 20 millions, she turned them back on. And finally, facing a near-uprising, she extinguished the cameras once more.
She did, however, manage to unite the most polar of political groups. From Tea Partiers to Black Panthers, Houstonians hate the red-light cameras. And that's without even knowing the full story -- one we explore in this week's cover story.
This is the story of how two brothers, Paul and Michael Kubosh, rallied about 186,000 people to demand the end of red-light cameras.
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The Kuboshes seem unlikely champions of the voice of the people. Both are Republicans, and both have pretty reviled professions. Paul is a traffic attorney (a "bottom feeder," he says he's called) and Michael is a bail bondsman. But both are experts in the politics and what they call trickery of red-light camera companies, having studied them since the early 1990s.
The worst part, they say, is that Houston is in on it too -- that the cameras are about money, not safety.
ATS and Houston both deny it. But it only takes a trip to the next town over to find the same thing happening.
Kyle Sadler is the president of a boutique investment firm in Humble. Ever since he got a ticket for a right turn on red, he's been investigating the cameras. The city of Humble, he found, isn't very open to discussing the program.
On the city's web site, only five of the 10 camera locations are named, though it seems to be presented as an exhaustive list. (City manager Darrell Boeske told us he probably just forgot to update the web site.) Humble's mayor refuses to let him speak at city council meetings about starting a petition to turn the cameras off, Sadler says. And the lists of violations he's requested from the city have serious discrepancies from one to the next. Sadler suspects that city council members aren't being ticketed. "There's a lot of stuff that's going on," he says. "We haven't even broken the surface."
That's just a taste of the red-light camera circus, folks. Things are even bigger and badder in Houston -- just take a look at this week's cover story. Lights, cameras, action.