Governments raise money from a variety of human failings. Could be smoking, could be breaking traffic laws.
Taxes and fines can discourage the behavior. But sometimes the government becomes an addict, relying so heavily on the revenue that it loses focus on the behavior it was trying to moderate.
That’s what was so disheartening about the new D.C. inspector general’s report highlighting the various ways in which the city government abuses public trust in its traffic enforcement programs.
The report cites many instances of lax oversight in creating and operating enforcement programs designed to enhance the city’s control of its streets.
The compromises and outright failings on the part of the D.C. government all support one conclusion: They really are just trying to raise revenue. That’s the one thing they’re good at.
These are among the examples that opponents of enforcement programs can draw from the report issued Monday by interim Inspector General Blanche L. Bruce:
“The District often issues speeding tickets without conclusive identification of the violating vehicle” through its speed cameras.
The inspector general notes that this cavalier practice puts the “recipient of such a ticket in the challenging and frustrating position of trying to prove to a hearing examiner . . . that he or she is not the owner of the subject vehicle.”
The District Department of Public Works touts a program called TicPix, which allows motorists to see photos showing the violations for which they were ticketed. Great idea. But the inspector general “concluded that DPW far too often fails to make images available through TicPix.”
That’s a big oops. “Violation images are the only assurance a motorist has that his or her ticket was correctly issued and are important evidence to hearing examiners and appeals boards,” the report said.
For ticketing programs to be perceived as fair, the defendant has to be able to fight city hall.
The District Department of Transportation has its own set of enforcers, called traffic control officers, who have tremendous potential for easing traffic congestion and improving safety — if trained to do those things.
When the inspector general’s staff interviewed some of them, “the question that drew the most varied responses . . . was whether a District motorist may park legally at a broken meter.”
The inspector general knows what you’re thinking. “Skeptical members of the public might believe that the District’s failure to inform them on this subject is intentional: Without clear criteria of the District’s ticketing policy, a ticketed motorist is unable to prove that DDOT enforcement officers failed to follow proper procedure.”
The Parkmobile pay-by-phone system is an increasingly popular way of paying for street parking. But the inspector general’s report noted that the Parkmobile system gives the motorist no obvious indication that the payment was successfully processed. And there’s no way a photo taken by a parking enforcement officer will show a violation.
The inspector general’s report said “DDOT’s primary mechanism for overseeing Parkmobile’s work is to monitor the revenue reported by Parkmobile.” Pile that onto the already numerous indications about just what aspect of enforcement is most important to D.C. government.
The inspector general noted that “DDOT could better monitor Parkmobile’s work by tracking and analyzing customer complaints.” (In response to the report, DDOT said it will coordinate with the Parkmobile and D.C. customer service divisions to develop a procedure for documenting complaints.)
All the administrative vagaries unify around one concept: They make it easy to raise revenue, and they make it difficult to challenge a ticket.
And it’s not just the city bureaucracy. “There are essentially no statutory restrictions on the District’s burgeoning network of speed, red light, and pedestrian safety enforcement cameras,” the inspector general’s report said. “Other jurisdictions have imposed specific limits on the numbers and uses of cameras, and even the hours of the day during which they may be in operation.”
If they wanted the revenue that badly, why didn’t they just open a couple of casinos? It would be difficult to further darken the predatory reputation of the gambling industry.
Instead, city leadership failed traffic-safety advocates inside and outside of the government. More important, they failed the people who drive, walk, bike and live in the District and who need to know that the odds are in their favor when they use city streets.
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail