Baltimore's new speed camera system stumbles on first day, issues $38,480 in duplicate tickets

The re-launch of Baltimore’s speed camera system stumbled on its first day, when the program’s vendor accidentally issued a combined $38,480 in duplicate tickets to 962 people, officials said Monday.

To clear up any confusion, those drivers who received the duplicate speeding tickets issued on July 31 will receive a letter explaining the error and have their violations forgiven. Those who received only one ticket must pay their fines, officials said.

“They found the error early on, and so [people who were issued duplicate tickets] will probably get the notice of the violation being canceled even before they get the second ticket,” city Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau said. “We wanted to let the public know early on because we don’t want any confusion about the process.”

The problem was a result of human error in a manual review process the vendor, American Traffic Solutions, established in anticipation of a large number of tickets being issued on the program’s first day, a company spokesman said.

The duplicate tickets, mailed Aug. 7 and 8, are an embarrassing blunder as the city attempt’s to restart its once problem-plagued speed camera system. An older, larger version of the system was shut down in 2013 after The Baltimore Sun reported that the cameras were giving people erroneous tickets, including one that flagged a stopped car.

Under Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, the city resumed operating speed cameras in late June for a test period and began issuing tickets with fines on July 31.

In the new, smaller system, the city operates 10 portable speed cameras near schools throughout the city. Plans call for the new program to expand eventually to 20 speed cameras, 10 red light cameras and a system to enforce a prohibition on trucks using certain streets.

Unlike past problems with the system, the extra tickets were the result of the vendor’s error, and not a problem with the cameras themselves, Pourciau said.

American Traffic Solutions added the manual review to its normal automated process “in an effort to add an additional quality check to the first round of live violations” before sending the tickets for printing, said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the company, which has a $5.4 million contract with the city to manage the camera program.

“Unfortunately the July 31st violation file was submitted twice, causing two notices to be sent for some of the violations that were captured on that day,” Territo said in a statement. “The manual process has since been eliminated and violations are now being sent to the print vendor through our normal business process.”

He added: “We apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to working with the city to enhance school zone safety.”

The error caused duplicate tickets to be sent for about half of the violations on the first day, Pourciau said.

When Jim Spath received back-to-back Baltimore City speeding tickets in the mail late last week on the Toyota sedan he co-owns with his 28-year-old son, he initially thought they were for separate violations.

After writing a check, he took a closer look.

The citations — for driving 42 mph in a 30 mph zone on West Cold Spring Lane — were identical, Spath said.

Spath, who lives in eastern Baltimore County, said he was surprised the speed camera system went live so quickly and wasn’t still issuing warnings to remind drivers that the cameras were turning back on.

“I thought it was a test mode for a while, and then actual violations,” he said.

Anyone who received a duplicate citation and already paid a fine will receive a refund as soon as possible, said Robert Liberati, director of the city’s Automated Traffic Violation Enforcement System.

Spath said he’s not in that category.

“I wrote the check and haven’t mailed it yet,” he said.

To protect drivers against such an error in the future, the city now is cross-checking all speeding fine payments it receives with the vendor’s file of violations, Liberati said.

Liberati praised Pourciau’s decision to forgive the original violations of those who received duplicate citations.

“It’s a step that shows we’re serious about keeping this program on track,” he said.

Pugh echoed that sentiment during a conversation with The Sun’s editorial board Monday.

“I’m glad they refunded those tickets,” the mayor said.

The error was “an unfortunate start to the re-launch of Baltimore’s speed camera program,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Cooper Averella, but she said the auto club was encouraged that the problem was clerical and not technological. She praised the city’s handling of the situation.

The drivers’ advocacy group was part of a mayoral task force on the city’s speed camera system, Averella said.

“Unfortunately, because the city has a history of multiple issues with multiple vendors, it’s imperative that they get it right,” she said. “To have the public’s trust in the effectiveness of the city speed camera system, it is imperative that there’s across-the-board accuracy.”

Despite the early stumble, Pourciau said, she stands behind the vendor and the speed camera system.

“My level of confidence is the highest it can be,” she said. "We’ve got great companies working on the program. They came forward with the glitch immediately. We are working closely with them to make sure there are no more problems.”

The glitch notwithstanding, Pourciau emphasized that the violations were recorded correctly.

“These were issued to folks who were speeding on the speed camera,” she said. “Stop speeding. We need the streets to be safe.

“This wouldn’t be an issue for anyone if people followed the speed limit and proceeded safely.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which violations would be forgiven. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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