Should Planners Always Strive for Efficiency?

The backlash against red-light cameras provide a cautionary tale for those who want to cut costs and raise revenue through technology.

Commuters don't seem to balk at highway tolls when they're collected electronically through systems such as E-ZPass. So why do they freak out about electronic red light camera citations? Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felten says "maybe we don't want to make every sort of transaction friction-free."

Felten advises municipalities who sell red-light cameras as a way to cut law enforcement costs to change their spin. He writes "the cost-obliterating efficiency of the technology is the very thing that gets us riled. The old hurdles and hassles of manually issuing tickets...was generally accepted as fair. Now that equilibrium has been destroyed, and people find it alarming."

Felten's "inefficiency manifesto" can be a seen as a challenge to planners to come up with "low-tech" ways to collect fines and fees. Otherwise, citizens will turn to the courts, and in some cases win, as they did in Florida, where a judge ruled this week that state law does not allow cities to use red-light cameras.

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