Chicago’s robotic red light cameras have seen a sudden spike in tickets and thousands say they received $100 fines they didn’t deserve.
More than 4 million tickets were issued by a network of 380 traffic cameras since 2007. An investigation by the Chicago Tribune found wild swings in ticketing activity as the result of faulty equipment, human tinkering or both.
Transportation officials told the newspaper they were unaware of any spikes in ticketing until it was brought to their attention by the Tribune.
However, the camera vendor is required by law to watch for the slightest anomaly in ticketing patterns every day.
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"Something is terribly amiss here," Joseph Schofer, an associate dean at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, told the Chicago Tribune.
He said the newspaper's findings show “the system is broken.”
"The only reasonable explanation is that it is something involved in the technology," he said. "Whether it's diabolical or mechanical or electronic and accidental, I can't look inside people's souls and know that, but the evidence is pretty strong."
Oumou Wague, 42, says within 18 days in the spring of 2011 she received 18 automatic red light tickets for rolling through a right turn on red on her way home from work.
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“I was stunned,” she said. “I knew right away there was something wrong here. I knew that camera was broken, but you can’t fight City Hall – and that is a fact.”
Wague only tried to appeal two of the tickets.
"It's just not worth it. Nobody listens, and all they want is their money," she said. "Maybe now they will start listening. I think we should all get our money back. It's what is fair."
A lawsuit filed Thursday seeking class-action status claims that the company that provide the cameras, Redflex, earned millions from a city contract allegedly obtained through bribery. Plaintiffs say everyone ticketed should get at least some of their money back, WBBM-TV reports. The suit says if Redflex keeps the money it “violates the fundamental principals of justice, equity and good conscience."
Several other lawsuits against Redflex challenge the technical aspect of relying on cameras to issue tickets.
"The public has to believe that this is a safety countermeasure and not a moneymaking scheme, and that it is a fair system. The fairness is critical to it if people are going to accept these cameras in the city, that they are not arbitrary,” Joseph Hummer, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit, told The Tribune.
Image credit: Derek Jensen, CityOfElMirage.org