Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chicago has some explaining to do

An army of red-light cameras has apparently launched a robot takeover of Chicago. How else would one account for a series of unexplained surges in $100 tickets handed down from the city’s automated enforcement system?

In an expose, the Chicago Tribune says it has “clear evidence” to suggest there’s plenty of blame to go around, going so far as to say that some of the 380 cameras may have been altered or tampered with.

In a 10-month investigation, the Tribune found 13,000 “questionable” tickets and patterns at 12 intersections, and almost no accountability or follow-up from officials.

The tickets were questionable, according to the news organization, because some intersections that had been capturing one or two “rolling right turns” per day suddenly and without warning began capturing up to 56 violations per day.

Some ticket surges sometimes lasted weeks, the Tribune found. In its investigation, the news organization analyzed some 4 million tickets issued since 2007.

A company called Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., operates Chicago’s camera system.

Transportation officials have not yet offered an acceptable explanation for the surges or the lack of accountability, but the critics are all over it. Some have suggested that ticketing procedures were quietly altered behind the scenes to snare more violations and generate more money, or that somehow the cameras were malfunctioning.

One analyst quoted suggested that something “diabolical or mechanical or electronic and accidental” was afoot.

A small fraction of those who got dinged with $100 fines during the ticket surges have beaten their raps in court. Chicago law only allows a three-week window for someone to appeal a red-light camera ticket.

Chicago makes its photos and videos of red-light violations available online to vehicle owners. Officials say very few people appeal their red-light tickets once they see themselves on video or in a photograph violating a traffic law.

Those who win their appeals usually argue that the cameras don’t supply enough proof that they violated the law.