Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Red Light Special

The City of Chicago lists that it currently has installed 141 Red Light Cameras. Spurred by the revenue generated by these cameras, several different suburbs have been installing them as well. Both the City of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have expounded that these cameras are installed for the purpose of safety. Those of us that have been burned by the City over the past few years would certainly beg to differ, as the ticketing policy absolutely reeks of a revenue generation scam. I support this with my own experiences of having been ticketed when being stuck out in the middle of an intersection for a left hand turn until the light goes red, a situation that any city driver will tell you is entirely unavoidable should you ever want to actually make that turn. I have additionally been ticketed for making right turns on red lights where there is no "No Turn on Red" sign visible anywhere. In all instances, the City's response to a protest claim is "Pay Up."

Over the past month or two, all of our gripes seem to be coming to the forefront as more and more instances of public sector thievery rear their ugly heads. It began in early June, as the Sun Times reported on Alderman Ed Burke's request that the City look into instituting an education program on top of the already $100 per-ticket fines:

If the City Council’s most powerful alderman has his way, they’ll also have to go back to school — at a cost of $25.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) wants to require red-light runners to complete a “Red Light Education Program” to prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.

At today’s City Council meeting, Burke introduced an ordinance directing the city’s Department of Administrative Hearings to launch a “red light education program”—both on-line and in person—bankrolled by charging red-light runners a $25 fee in addition to the $100 ticket.

Motorists who fail to complete training would pay an additional $50 fine.

So that's $125, plus another $50 for those of us who view the ridiculous class as the giant waste of time that it truly would be. According to the same article, the cameras, at $100 a pop are generating abotu $50 million in revenue as it is. Up that by an additional 75%, and that becomes $87.5 million simply by creating an excuse to charge more money. But they're not stopping there. As the Big Brother network of cameras grows ever larger, a company by the name of InsureNet has pitched to the City that it could generate yet another $100 to $200 million by tapping into the network of both red light cameras and surveillance cameras already installed on our corners. How, you ask? Why, by using that video to check our plates and see who out there is driving without insurance, of course! Thankfully, at least for the time being, the State of Illinois hasn't got a law in place that forces insurance providers to make that information available. I doubt it will be long before they do, though, with 13 other states already doing it and $200 million at stake.

With dollar signs in their eyes, does anyone believe officials with the City or even the surrounding suburbs are really going to care about who a program like this actually hurts? I have been to court a few times for speeding tickets. I've seen the people that are there to address their speeding ticket plus the additional fine for not having insurance. There is a reason they don't have insurance, and that reason is that they can't afford it. Seeing a judge sentence someone who is obviously scraping by to make the rent and eat to a $1,000 fine, if it weren't so sad, would almost be comical. ARS Technica sums it up nicely:
It's not hard to connect the dots on this one. If unemployed workers are the most likely to cancel their insurance, and InsureNet's system targets the uninsured, than the city of Chicago would, in effect, be balancing the books on the shoulders of those least able to afford it. Indeed, the city could find itself confronting a virtual mob of angry citizens who are funding social services and unemployment benefits out of their own unemployment checks.

The Sun Times saw fit to ignore that aspect of the situation. They did ask Burke about the money though, and of course, when pressed about the fundraising aspect of it all, Burke was limp-wristedly adamant that, “The focus shouldn’t be on the fee as much as on the educational benefit this could create.”

One assumes that the educational benefit would, of course, be that of recognizing that we are not supposed to be running red lights. Apparently we must be taught that the red lights mean stop. Of course, this would all be brought into focus if only somebody would crunch the numbers on safety! That's the ticket!

Until this past Sunday, of course, when the Chicago Tribune did exactly that.

(I give a HUGE hat-tip here to the Parking Ticket Geek and his tremendous blog The Expired Meter for this story, since I rarely read either of this town's awful publications.)

And what do we find out from this rare piece of actual effective journalism? What we suspected all along: Red Light Cameras are for making money. Nothing more. There is no better example than the town of Bellwood, a town with eight red light cameras, including one located next to the expressway on-ramp that churns out between $65,000 and $70,000 every month.
In his municipal league talk, McCampbell said he and other Bellwood officials lobbied for the new law. He said the driving force was the deaths of four people in a July 2005 crash that involved red light running at Mannheim Road and Madison Street.Bellwood has eight traffic cameras, but none at that intersection.

The 25th and Harrison locale is unusual for a red-light camera because traffic only flows in three directions, not four, reducing the likelihood of side-impact crashes. The east side of the intersection is flanked by the back of Wilson Elementary School, and its presence is one of the reasons officials gave for placing the camera there.

But the entrance to Wilson is a block away and there's no crosswalk at the intersection. What's more, the school has been closed for a year.

In an interview, McCampbell said Bellwood uses fine revenue from traffic cameras to underwrite the costs of police video surveillance equipment that watches the town of 20,000. The biggest financial contributor is the 25th and Harrison camera.But that's not the only reason why Bellwood officials value that particular camera, McCampbell admitted. He said 90 percent of violators it catches don't live in Bellwood and are headed to he expressway.

"To be very crass, they are less likely to return and complain about it," he said.


No comments:

Post a Comment