City Hall plans to start sending out letters Friday to at least 9,000 drivers with details of the review process to determine whether the city sends them $100 refunds for red light camera citations issued during unexplained, suspicious spikes in tickets.
Reacting to a Tribune investigation published last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said in an email that drivers will have 45 days to request a review of their violation by email, phone, mail or in person.
Within 30 days of receiving the request, an outside auditor will review “all available information” and issue a determination. In those cases where video is no longer available, still photos will be reviewed, according to the administration.
“If the still photos and/or video do not clearly prove the law was broken, drivers will receive a refund,” the email said. “So the onus will be on the city to clearly prove the law was broken.”
Details of the review process came after a Thursday news conference where Emanuel defended the new appeals system but sidestepped the question of whether it’s unfair that such citations were imposed inconsistently as the Tribune investigation found.
The city’s red-light system has come under intense criticism since the Tribune last Friday published an analysis of more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007. The investigation revealed numerous cases in which intersections that had issued just a few tickets a day temporarily began spewing them at rates of up to 56 per day. National traffic experts shown the findings concluded the tickets were issued unfairly because of faulty equipment or human tinkering at those intersections and suggested the city should refund those fines.
Instead of offering refunds to all the affected motorists, Emanuel has opted to offer at least 9,000 drivers ticketed during a dozen spikes identified by the Tribune a chance for a refund through a review process the administration says will be conducted by an outside auditor.
Asked Thursday whether it’s fair to ticket a driver one day for a behavior that wasn’t being ticketed the day before, Emanuel would not say. “I will answer a fair question,” he said.
Asked whether he shared the anger of drivers who were fined during the spikes, the mayor for the first time expressed a degree of frustration.
“I am angry if the system is inoperable,” Emanuel said. “There should be no inequity in the system. There should be no aberration.”
The mayor also tried to assure those who were ticketed during the spikes — anomalies his administration has not been able to explain — that they will get a second chance for a review.
“To those who think they were wronged, there’s a letter now out, you’re going to get an additional chance to appeal,’’ the mayor said. “and if there are any questions about it, you’ll get a refund. … We’re going to have a system. If the 9,000 or any one of them is wrong, they’re going to get a refund, because they deserve it.”
The Emanuel administration has not acknowledged that any tickets were issued improperly, and on Wednesday the mayor’s transportation commissioner suggested that wild swings in red light tickets are normal.
Asked to respond to Chicagoans who may now believe the red light ticketing process is “rigged,” Emanuel immediately noted that he had fired Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the company that began the program in 2003 and grew it into the nation’s largest red light camera system.
“The company that was doing this has been fired a long time ago,” he said.
Emanuel ordered the firing of Redflex in February 2013 amid Tribune reports about allegations the company paid up to $2 million in bribes to a former city official who oversaw the program. At the time, the Emanuel administration raised no concerns about the company’s operation of the camera program, and even extended the company’s contract as federal authorities opened a bribery investigation at City Hall. The company remained on the job until March, when the program was handed over to Xerox State & Local Solutions.
The mayor also said his office has established “protocols” to bolster public confidence in the beleaguered program. He said city transportation officials now will meet more often with Xerox to discuss the system’s performance and his administration will post online the daily ticket counts for each of the city’s 352 red light cameras.
Emanuel reiterated that those identified by the city that have been caught in the ticket spikes will have another chance to contest their fines.
“If there is anything wrong with it, it needs to be fixed,” Emanuel said. “And while there’s been other checks in the system — meaning people had the chance to appeal — we’re going to offer them another opportunity. We’ve sent them a letter. They can do it by email, phone, letter, any way and get set up in the process. And they’re going to have an outside auditor actually question that and go through it.”
Asked why his administration seems focused more on driver behavior than the consistency of camera enforcement, Emanuel again sidestepped the issue.
“There’s going to be a process, because there’s video and there’s photos. That’s how we’re going to go forward,” the mayor said. “That’s how we did it in the past. And what you don’t want to do is set up a system of something different, even though there is a third review, like other people say, ‘Well why do they get to do that, and we don’t?”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun