If Lori Lightfoot is elected mayor, the Denver boot just might get the boot for non-moving violations.
So would a hefty chunk of Chicago’s 302 red light cameras at 149 intersections – even if it puts a dent in the $57 million in annual revenue.
Lightfoot vowed Friday to bring equity to an overly-punitive ticketing policy that has unfairly targeted minority motorists and forced thousands into bankruptcy.
“I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, so I understand on a personal level how regressive fines and fees disproportionately impact Chicagoans who are already struggling to make ends meet,” Lightfoot said in a press release.
“Chicagoans deserve a mayor who will stand up on this issue. We cannot balance the city budget on the backs of those least able to bear that burden.”
Lightfoot isn’t promising to ban the boot entirely. But she is promising to curtail the city’s use of the wheel-locking device to prevent hard-pressed motorists from losing their wheels.
She noted that, since 2011, City Hall has sold nearly 50,000 vehicles owned by motorists who either could not or did not pay their outstanding debts and boot removal fees.
Arguing that the “punitive” policy is “counter-productive,” she said, “I will work with community groups and city officials to identify ways to curtail this practice — whether that means stopping the practice of booting cars for non-moving tickets, raising the threshold of when a car should be booted or limiting the city’s ability to sell impounded cars.”
As for the red-light cameras that aldermen and their constituents love to hate, Lightfoot promised to audit the city’s existing network and “sunset those cameras that are only being used for revenue — not safety.”
Lightfoot also vowed to: eliminate “racial disparities” in traffic enforcement; give motorists with missing or expired city stickers the option of purchasing one to avoid or reduce the fine; and revise, what she called “draconian anti-scofflaw laws” that prohibit those with outstanding city debts to hold city jobs or drive taxicabs or ride-hailing vehicles.
“I would end this policy for people whose outstanding payments are below a certain threshold,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying, without pinpointing what that threshold would be.
“We must cap the exorbitant penalties that can accrue on unpaid tickets. I will work with the City Council to set a reasonable cap.”
Lightfoot acknowledged that all of her proposals might “reduce revenue in the short-term.” But, she promised to identify “progressive revenues to replace” those losses at a time when the city is also facing a $1 billion spike in pension payments.
Three months ago, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld warned that mayoral candidates promising to shut down Chicago’s red light and speed cameras are making a “cheap” and uninformed political play that would likely result in the death of even more pedestrians.
“It’s a cheap political thing … It’s an easy kind of reflexive thing. But that’s coming from an uninformed perspective,” Scheinfeld told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“A lot of people have sort of a knee-jerk reaction to them and aren’t actually familiarizing themselves with the facts. Speed cameras, red light cameras are proven to improve safety … This is saving lives today….More people would die” if red-light and speed cameras were removed.
The warning didn’t stop Toni Preckwinkle from promising her own overhaul of the city’s punitive ticketing policies.
Preckwinkle specifically promised to: devise a “graduated cost schedule” for city stickers to “make them affordable for low-income motorist; roll back city sticker fines from $200 to $120; stop suspending licenses for outstanding ticket debt associated with non-moving violations; reduce the downstroke required to participate in payment plans by eliminating the penalty for booted and towed vehicles.
Like Lightfoot, Preckwinkle would also abolish the scofflaw hiring ban and create a task force to do a deep dive into the disparities between the aggressive ticketing in black and brown communities and the less aggressive ticketing in white neighborhoods.
Last year, a joint investigation by Pro Publica and WBEZ-FM Radio shined the spotlight on the punitive nature of sticker enforcement and racial disparities system in the ticketing system.
The investigation disclosed that only one in three sticker tickets issued during 2016 were paid within a year.
An analysis of tickets issued over a four-year period ending in 2015 showed that black neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted for sticker violations, with tickets issued by police driving the difference.
Meanwhile, sticker tickets issued to motorists in more affluent neighborhoods were more likely to be dismissed because they were more likely to or had the wherewithal to appeal.