Report criticizes red light ticket program

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City Hall cannot back up claims that its controversial red-light camera program is designed to make intersections safer, according to a watchdog’s report released today.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson also questioned why cameras remain at intersections with no recent side-impact crashes, which the $100 ticket-issuing cops in a box are designed to prevent.

“We found a lack of basic record keeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue,” Ferguson wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials.

The conclusions are the result of an audit of the red-light program, which was launched under former Mayor Richard Daley in 2003 and now makes more than $70 million a year for the city.

Ferguson also faults Emanuel, noting the mayor has continued the program during his first two years in office despite the Chicago Department of Transportation’s inability to demonstrate “how each camera location was chosen, or why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated.”

Emanuel is in the process of ending the current red light camera contract with Redlfex after the Tribune exposed a potential $2 million bribery scheme involving the company’s deal with the city. The mayor is seeking bids for a new vendor even as he looks to install new speed cameras near schools and parks across the city, in part to generate at least $20 million.

There are now 384 cameras at 190 intersections, according to Ferguson’s audit. In 2012, the city issued 612,278 red light camera tickets and brought in nearly $72 million in red light camera revenue, the audit states. The city, meanwhile, paid more than $19 million a year to Redflex to run the program.

Even if the goal of the program is really to generate city revenue, it’s not clear that goal is being met , Ferguson also concluded. “We found no evidence of this program being managed in a manner designed specifically to maximize revenue,” he wrote.

And the city is spending $13,800 a year to maintain each camera, which cost $25,000 a piece. “We question whether the city or contract personnel have undertaken any meaningful effort to limit unnecessary costs,” Ferguson wrote.

Ferguson recommended “that the city establish and follow clear criteria for its decisions on where to locate automated traffic law enforcement systems and retain verifiable documentation of the process for each location decision.”

In response to the audit, CDOT officials noted that no red light cameras have been installed during Emanuel’s two years in office. They also said angle crashes were reduced by nearly a third at intersections where the cameras were installed.

“As part of our commitment to integrity and transparency, CDOT will review the red light camera installation and removal criteria and determine what, if any, modifications should be made,” CDOT spokesman Peter Scales said in a statement.


-Chicago Tribune reporting

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