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Baltimore red light cameras begin issuing $75 fines

Baltimore officials have begun issuing $75 red-light camera tickets to motorists for the first time since 2013.

“The trial period for the red-light cameras is over," Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday. "My message to everyone is “Drive slow, drive slow, drive slow.’ "

The eight red-light cameras are at six intersections in Baltimore: Reisterstown Road at Patterson Avenue; North Avenue at North Howard Street; South Monroe Street at Washington Boulevard; Belair Road at Erdman Avenue; Pulaski Highway at North Point Road; and North Calvert Street at East Baltimore Street.

The new red-light camera system comes after the relaunch 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.

Drivers who received the duplicate speeding tickets issued July 31 will receive a letter explaining the error and have their violations forgiven.

Pugh said city officials corrected that problem and do not expect similar issues with the launch of the red-light camera system.

“We took care of it,” she said.

Baltimore awarded contracts in May to revive the once-troubled speed and red light camera system, which had been shut down for four years.

Under the contract, American Traffic Solutions will be paid $5.4 million over the next five years to run the city's speed camera system, while Conduent Inc. will be paid $4.2 million to run the red light camera system. A third firm, MRA Digital LLC, will be paid $80,000 every year to calibrate the cameras.

This is the city's third camera program, following two failed attempts in which cameras issued erroneous tickets to drivers who were not speeding. The system, which was run for years by Xerox State and Local Solutions and briefly by Brekford Corp., was shut down in April 2013.

The previous system of 83 speed cameras and 81 red-light cameras once brought in nearly $20 million a year for the city. But it was dogged by questions about its accuracy after a Baltimore Sun investigation revealed numerous problems.

The system, once the largest in North America, had brought in $140 million since 1999 to city government.

At the program's height, a single Baltimore officer reviewed 1,000 to 1,200 of the machine-generated citations per shift — sometimes as many as five or six per minute.

Critics of the automated cameras have argued that running such a large system relies too much on technology that is known to sometimes produce false readings and makes it harder to do a substantive review of the tickets.

For instance, city officials have acknowledged that, in 2011, their red-light camera system issued about 2,000 tickets to motorists with a signature bearing the name of a dead police officer.

Baltimore officials have said the new system will stay much smaller than previous versions. Transportation officials say they've added new quality control staff, including an ombudsman to deal with allegations of erroneous tickets.

Maryland law allows jurisdictions to issue $40 speed camera tickets to vehicles traveling 12 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. Red light camera tickets carry a $75 fine.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said Young was pleased the cameras are back in operation.

“He’s ecstatic,” Davis said. “We need them from a public safety standpoint and we need them from a revenue standpoint. It’s a win-win.”

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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