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Emanuel touts savings in new red-light camera contract

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Updated: November 27, 2013 6:08AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday turned the page from a $2 million bribery scandal plaguing Chicago’s decade-old red-light camera program in a way, he claims, will save taxpayers $10 million a year.

The city signed a five-year contract — with three, two-year extensions — that calls for Xerox State & Local Solutions, Inc. to be paid $1,819 per month to manage and maintain each of the city’s 384 red-light cameras.

That’s just 42 percent of the $4,300 monthly fee that Chicago was paying Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Solutions, the company forced out by the bribery scandal. The more favorable terms are expected to save taxpayers $10 million a year over the life of the contract, City Hall said.

Mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the dramatic drop in prices stems from the “different technology” used by the two companies. Redflex had “loop detectors mounted in the street.” Xerox is using less costly radar technology, McCaffrey said.

Xerox spokesman Carl Langsenkamp had no immediate comment on the contract finalized Friday.

A press release issued by City Hall said the “transition to the new management team” would begin immediately.

“Automated red-light enforcement changes drivers’ behavior to reduce the number of crashes and increase the level of safety for everyone,” Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein was quoted as saying in a statement.

“We plan to continue this important program with a new management team that will both improve the technology and efficiency of the program while saving operating expenses.”

For Xerox, the contract is valued at $44.1 million over the first five years with annual increases tied to inflation after that capped at five percent-a-year.

Emanuel dumped Redflex after the company’s own investigation showed it paid for numerous trips for a former city official charged with overseeing the program and concealed that information from the city.

But the Redflex contract was extended twice to make certain the city can sever the relationship for good.

Earlier this month, City Hall announced plans to remove 36 red-light cameras at 18 intersections by Jan. 31, reducing the overall number to 348 red-light cameras at 172 intersections.

The timing of the mayor’s announcement — just as speed cameras were starting to churn out $100 tickets — made it look as if Emanuel was throwing motorists a bone.

But the mayor insisted that he made the decision because the cameras had succeeded in reducing the number of serious accidents — not to soften the blow of video surveillance.

The 18 intersections where cameras will be removed either experienced no “right-angle crashes” or only one in 2012. They also have a “total crash rate”—calculated by dividing annual crashes by average daily traffic counts — of less than 1 percent, according to Illinois Department of Transportation statistics.

McCaffrey was asked Friday whether red-light cameras would be removed from other intersections that meet those same criteria.

“CDOT’s plan is to monitor the intersections where red-light cameras were removed and evaluate that data,” he said.

“We have not committed to removing any other camera system.”

Earlier this year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded there was no evidence to substantiate the city’s claim that red-light cameras have either reduced accidents or are installed at the most dangerous intersections.

Ferguson also complained that the city was spending $13,800 a year to maintain each camera, after paying $25,000 for each camera system.

“We question whether the city or contract personnel have undertaken any meaningful effort to limit unnecessary costs,” the inspector general wrote then.

Earlier this year, Xerox lost its speed camera contract in Baltimore after equipment problems prompted thousands of tickets there to be issued by mistake.

Despite those problems, a seven-member Chicago evaluation committee with representatives from several city departments chose Xerox over three other finalists for the red-light camera contract.

The decision was based on the fact that Xerox had the highest technical score, the “most detailed transition plan” and the fact that it planned to “re-purpose to the greatest extent possible” Redflex-installed equipment owned by the city and “replace all existing electronics with non-intrusive detection” in the shortest time-frame, City Hall said.

Red-light cameras were gradually installed at accident-prone Chicago intersections, beginning in 2003. The cameras pumped out a high of 791,111 tickets in 2009, before dropping in recent years to 763,419 in 2010, 662,046 in 2011 and 612,278 last year.

When red-light cameras were first installed, City Hall billed it as a safety measure, just as Emanuel is now touting speed cameras.

But with a $100 fine for every motorist who blows through a red light, Chicago’s arsenal of red-light cameras quickly became a cash cow for the revenue-strapped city. Emanuel is counting on red light cameras to generate $60 million in revenue in 2014, even after the overall inventory is reduced.

Xerox was the runner-up for the Chicago speed camera contract after assembling a clout-heavy team that includes Democratic strategist Kevin Conlon, who founded his firm with former Democratic National Committee Chairman David Wilhelm. Conlon has done campaign work for President Obama.

Also assisting Xerox in Chicago was ASGK Public Strategies, a firm founded but no longer owned by David Axelrod, the mayor’s friend of 30 years who worked together with Emanuel in the Obama White House.

E-MAIL: fspielman@suntimes.com

TWITTER: @fspielman



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