Red light camera tickets and revenue rising in Balcones Heights, data shows

Traffic program brings in more than $1 million in revenue over past three years, data shows

The Balcones Heights red light traffic program brings in more than $1 million in revenue over past three years, data shows.

In 2019, the Texas Legislature outlawed new red light camera programs, but in Balcones Heights, tickets keep rolling in, along with money from fines that offenders aren’t legally obligated to pay.

Though the passage of HB 1631 prevents new programs from going into effect, cities that already had red light camera contracts were grandfathered in, allowing those contracts to stay in effect until they expire. That includes the Balcones Heights contract, which was approved in 2006, and runs through 2034.

Even though the program is allowed to continue, the 2019 state law limits how far cities can go in enforcing the tickets. Unpaid tickets cannot be held against a driver who is renewing their vehicle or license, and although the ticket can be reported to a collection agency, it is not authorized to be reported to a credit bureau.

Still, more than half of the drivers who receive tickets have paid the fine over the past three years, according to Balcones Heights revenue records obtained by KSAT 12.

As the San Antonio area has grown, the number of tickets issued by Balcones Heights also increased — even in 2020, when fewer cars were on the road amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. During wide-scale shutdowns between March and May 2020, traffic volume fell to levels not seen since the 1990s, according to a traffic study conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Revenue from red light camera tickets

In 2019, 22,620 tickets were issued and 13,206 tickets were paid — a pay rate of 58%.

In 2020, 25,822 tickets were issued and 14,362 tickets were paid — a pay rate of 55%.

In 2021, 29,259 tickets were issued and 14,810 tickets were paid — dropping the pay rate down to 50%.

The program has brought in more than $1 million in total revenue over the past three years, according to data provided by Balcones Heights. The city only keeps roughly a quarter of that revenue.

At the start of each fiscal year, in September, more than $700,000 goes toward administrative expenses, which include worker salaries and other personnel and operating expenses.

The state of Texas also captures a portion of the money under state law, taking $147,541 in the fiscal year 2019, $191,294 in the fiscal year 2020, and $220,826 in the fiscal year 2021.

After accounting for late fees and interest, Balcones Heights kept $246,445 in the fiscal year 2019, $283,674 in the fiscal year 2020 and $309,551 in the fiscal year 2021. That money can only be spent on traffic improvements through the city’s Traffic Safety program, according to the data.

Balcones Heights defends red light camera program

Though the red-light cameras continue to upset drivers, city officials say the program has shown its benefits. Besides funding safety projects in Balcones Heights, the cameras have also led to a reduction in collisions.

“The City of Balcones Heights operates a red-light safety camera program to protect all people who live, work, and visit our City. It began in 2006,” City Administrator David Harris previously said in a statement to KSAT 12 News. “The 2019 Legislature discontinued new programs in the state and grandfathered existing programs to continue with its vendor until the end of the contract. The Balcones Heights contract with ATS/Verra Mobility runs through 2034. Balcones Heights Police Department reminds motorists to come to a complete stop at all red lights and stop signs. Rolling stops or “California stops” do not count. Thank you for making our community safe for everyone.”

What to do if you get a red light ticket

If you get a red light camera ticket in the mail, make sure you read the ticket. It will include directions on how to appeal the ticket.

If the appeal doesn’t work out, motorists are still not required to pay the ticket because it’s a civil penalty that cannot be reported to the DMV, your credit bureau or your insurance company, according to state law.

However, the ticket can be forwarded to a collection agency, who will work to recoup that payment.

Read more: