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Red-light cameras at Belmont and Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive have caught CTA bus drivers running red lights more than any other camera location. | James Foster / Sun-Times

WATCHDOGS: CTA buses rack up red-light, speed tickets; you pay

SHARE WATCHDOGS: CTA buses rack up red-light, speed tickets; you pay
SHARE WATCHDOGS: CTA buses rack up red-light, speed tickets; you pay

CTA bus drivers racked up more than 400 red-light-camera and speeding-camera tickets the past two years while on the job, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show — and taxpayers were stuck having to pay.

The bill for the citations totaled about $40,000 for 2015 and 2016, the records show.

Unlike Pace, the suburban bus service agency, which makes drivers pay when they run a red light or speed, the CTA pays when its drivers get caught by red-light and speed cameras.

CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry says that between 2006 and 2009 the agency made drivers pay for any tickets they got for speeding or running a red light. But the union representing bus drivers, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, “filed grievances, an unfair-labor practice charge and a lawsuit,” and the two sides eventually agreed the CTA would pay the bill “as owner of the vehicles,” Mayberry says.

Drivers do face the possibility of disciplinary action over tickets, according to Mayberry.He says 268 full- or part-time CTA bus drivers faced some type of discipline — a written reprimand, a suspension or worse — the past two years over tickets. Sixteen were fired for reasons “that included but may not have been limited to having a red-light violation,” Mayberry says.

All of the CTA citations — which carried fines of either $100 or $35 — were issued as a result of buses being caught by the city of Chicago’s network of red-light or speed cameras, rather than traffic cops, according to Mayberry.Most were for red-light violations.

Red-light cameras at Belmont and Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive have caught CTA bus drivers running red lights more than any other camera location. | James Foster / Sun-Times

Red-light cameras at Belmont and Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive have caught CTA bus drivers running red lights more than any other camera location. | James Foster / Sun-Times

Those cameras have come under scrutiny in recent years amid a bribery scandal that saw a former top city transportation official and the former chief executive of the city’s red-light-camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, get prison terms. And, as the result of a class-action lawsuit, City Hall faces the prospect of having to refund $200 million in fines and late fees to drivers denied due process after getting red-light and speed-camera tickets.

But “none of the citations” the CTA drivers got were tainted by questions over whether cameras were issuing tickets fairly, Mayberry says. Still, the CTA challenged some tickets, and 15 were thrown out on appeal.

Mayberry says the “type of red-light tickets CTA challenges generally involve cases where we believe the camera took a picture of a bus that was making a legal right turn which had stopped or where the bus is a bigger vehicle and doesn’t make it past the stop barbefore the light changes to red.”

The number of red-light violations has been on the decline since hitting 779 in 2010 — with 321 issued in 2011, 222 in 2012, 300 in 2013 and 211 in 2014, according to the CTA, which says the number of tickets overall is small given how many miles its buses cover.

“The 27 speed-camera citations billed to CTA in 2015 equal approximately one citation for every 2 million miles traveled by CTA buses,” the CTA says.“The 2016 total of 15 citations equals approximately one citation for every three and a half million miles traveled by CTA buses.

“The number of red-light-camera citations paid in 2015 (166) equals approximately three violations for every 1 million miles traveled. Similarly, the (193) violations in 2016 equal about three and a half violations for every 1 million miles traveled.”

The red-light cameras that caught CTA bus drivers most frequently are at Belmont and Sheridan Road near Lake Shore Drive in Lake View on the North Side — 30 citations over two years, records show.

A sign at Sheridan Road and Belmont Avenue warns drivers they’re being watched by red-light cameras. | James Foster / Sun-Times

A sign at Sheridan Road and Belmont Avenue warns drivers they’re being watched by red-light cameras. | James Foster / Sun-Times

That’s also the spot where the most red-light tickets overall citywide were issued in 2015 — more than 16,000, according to Chicago Department of Transportation records. In 2016, nearly 21,000 were issued there.

There are roughly 300 red-light and 150 speed cameras across the city.

Other top spots for red-light tickets issued to bus drivers were: the intersection of Illinois and Columbus Drive downtown, with 13 citations over the two-year period, and Chicago and Sacramento, with 11.

The most speed-camera tickets given to CTA bus drivers were issued near Foster and Kedzie: 14 over two years, according to agency records. Altogether, there were more than 6,000 automated speeding tickets issued there in 2015, according to the city.

Roughly a block from the enforcement camera is a CTA bus garage, where buses are staged, housed and maintained.

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