Smile for the camera

Thomas R. Temin

You know when you've been nailed by a red-light camera. It happened to me one evening at dusk when I was rushing my son to an event and I entered an intersection on yellow (I thought). A flash illuminated the car, and on the return trip I spotted the glass bubble suspended over the intersection.

Only, this camera was apparently a dummy because I never did get a ticket.

Now, so-called red-light cameras, which photograph the license plate of a car running a red light and automatically produce a ticket that the jurisdiction mails to the motorist, are being pulled over.

Some citizens perceive them as intruding on privacy.

San Diego recently lost a suit when Judge Ronald Styn of San Diego County Superior Court ruled that evidence gathered by red-light cameras was inadmissible in court.

His reasoning had nothing to do with privacy but should nevertheless give pause to government agencies at all levels. Styn found a violation of state law in a contractor operation of the system and particularly its per-ticket share of the fines.

The ruling throws cold water on the widely touted notion that share-in-savings or share-in-enhanced-revenue contracts are the contract vehicles of the future.

Sharing contracts seems like the perfect way to shift performance risk to vendors. Some proponents parade successful stories, such as England's Inland Revenue outsourcing, at every conference.

Although contracts such as the one between San Diego and Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas may be perfectly legal at the federal level and elsewhere, they don't always look good to citizens or legislators. San Diego got $201 of every $271 ticket, ACS the rest. Justified or not, you can see how this could be construed as government selling out to greedy corporations.

No two deals are alike, and anything to do with automobiles, fines or taxes is going to be fraught with extra political danger. Where I live, even speed bumps provoke apoplexy.

But the brouhaha over red-light cameras and the ruling in San Diego ought to put program managers and contracting officers considering cost- or revenue-splitting contracts on yellow alert: Proceed with caution.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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