96 percent of disputed city red-light tickets upheld

An independent third party hired by the city has upheld 96 percent of disputed red-light tickets issued after suspicious spikes at a dozen Chicago intersections.

In all, 126 red-light tickets were nullifed, and the city will offer refunds to motorists who paid those violations, after a review of 15,885 red-light tickets.

To restore public confidence in the red-light program severely shaken by a Chicago Tribune investigation and a $2 million bribery scandal, City Hall asked an independent third party,  Grant Thornton LP, to review the tickets in question.  

Letters were mailed to motorists who received those tickets offering them an opportunity for a second look where the onus would be on the city to prove its case, not on the motorist.

The letters generated 3,285 requests for a review. Roughly 96 percent of the 2,953 tickets reviewed so far were validated by Grant Thornton LP.

“In the other 4 percent [126 tickets], the decision was made to vacate the violation and offer a refund if the violation had been paid,” Peter Scales, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation, wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The onus was squarely on the city and the benefit of the doubt was given to the motorist…The system has to be right…If the evidence did not clearly demonstrate the validity of the violations, the ticket will be vacated and a refund issued.”

The deadline for motorists to exercise their option for a third-party review was the close of business Tuesday.

Scales noted that the 96 percent validation rate is “in line with what we would expect” for red-light violation appeals.

“In fact, a `turn-over’ rate of 4 percent by the independent third-party in this review is less than half of the 9.5 percent average that were appealed and dismissed by administrative hearing officers during the same period these tickets were issued [2007-to-2013],” he said.

In late July, Emanuel asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the red-light camera program billed as the largest in the nation.

He also offered to review the disputed tickets and refund fines if the tickets were issued in error.

To remove the cloud hanging over a red-light camera system that the mayor counted on to generate $60 million in revenues this year, Emanuel further promised to post daily violations for each of the 352 red-light cameras posted at 174 Chicago intersections.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, was not appeased. He demanded that the city “put the brakes on the whole red-light system” until Ferguson completes his investigation of the program and determines the city’s ongoing liability.

Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld countered that the suspicious spikes were confined to less than one-half of 1 percent of all the violations issued during that period.

The following day, Emanuel said he was “angry” about the spikes and, “If any of `em is wrong, they’re gonna get a refund because they deserve it.”

The mayor added, “There should be no inequity in the system. There should be no aberration. And a company, even though it’s a small percentage less than 1 percent, it has to be 100 percent right for there to be trust.”

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