Many D.C. Red-Light Cameras Broken

By Nikita Stewart and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

About half of the 50 red-light enforcement cameras in the District have been out of service in recent months, giving a pass to drivers and potentially depriving the city of millions of dollars in fines, according to a firm that has taken over the system.

Twenty-three of the cameras have not been working at all, and some have been out of service for as long as six months, according to a memorandum written by Phoenix-based American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, which is to officially take over management of the cameras today.

"It's unconscionable that these have been inoperable," said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). "I'm not even talking from the revenue perspective. I'm talking from the safety perspective."

In addition to lost revenue, the District might be liable for having issued speeding tickets that could be challenged, according to a March 11 memo that ATS sent to council members. The company said it found that radar equipment that detects speeding drivers had not been certified at two undisclosed sites for more than eight months.

The situation exposes "the District to evidentiary liability on tens of thousands of speeding violation notices for millions of dollars," according to the memo.

"It is putting out in public the issue [of] whether a lot of tickets are legitimate," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). He said it was too early to say what would happen with potential challenges to traffic citations issued.

Although officials were not able to estimate the amount of lost revenue, the city has collected more than $40 million in fines from drivers photographed running red lights from August 1999 to January, according to the D.C. police Web site. More than $128 million has been collected for speeding violations in the automated system since 2001.

The cameras were managed during that time by a rival to ATS, Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, or ACS, which was criticized recently in a city audit for its poor management of the city's 16,500 parking meters.

ATS officials said they conducted their survey of the equipment during a three-month contract period prior to assuming full control of the system.

Joseph M. Barrett, a spokesman for ACS, said in an e-mail that his firm would need time to "investigate the charges" but noted that the two companies have been in a dispute over the contract with the District. ACS, which lost the city contract to ATS about a year ago, has filed a complaint with the Contracts Appeal Board.

The police department is aware of the allegations, said Edward A. Hamilton, a civilian at the department with oversight of the photo enforcement and traffic violation system.

"We are reviewing, analyzing and assessing options concerning the allegations," said Hamilton, who has been in his position for one month. "I have no concrete information to verify what ATS is saying. If there are issues, then we will work very diligently to identify the issues and work to find solutions and address the problems."

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