The decision by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration’s to quietly reduce the margin of error for drivers passing through zones monitored by traffic cameras sure comes off as a money grab.
And it turns out that officials had a pretty good sense of how much money it would let them grab before they enacted the controversial policy change.
Spoiler alert: It’s a lot. An internal analysis prepared for the administration projected that the change — in the case of 20-mile-per-hour school zones, issuing tickets for drivers going at least 24 mph as opposed to the former cutoff of 26 mph — could result in up to 100,000 additional tickets and as much as $7.5 million in additional revenue.
And indeed, evidence from after the furtive switch points to a windfall. In February, 79 percent more tickets were issued than in January, according to nola.com. News of the change came to light only this month, after residents who received tickets in the mail starting speaking up on social media.
Politically, the blow-up — which came while Cantrell was on an unannounced junket to Cuba — is anything but a windfall for a mayor who ran for office as an avid traffic camera critic. She also positioned herself as an advocate for New Orleanians who are struggling to make ends meet and can’t easily absorb a surprise expense.
On Wednesday, City Council budget chair Jared Brossett said he would call administration officials before his committee next week to take questions on the new policy and the decision not to publicize it, so the fuss is unlikely to die down any time soon.
Administration officials continue to point to the change as an effort to improve safety, which is, of course important. Yet they did not specifically analyze whether kids are safer when drivers cut an extra two or three miles off their already reduced traveling speed.
That they focused their research on the money-making prospects, though, speaks volumes.