With a click of the electronic eye, it’s a fast $100 out of your wallet. But even if you’ve never been nailed by a red-light camera, chances are you’re paying for somebody else’s fine.
Taxpayers are picking up the tab for thousands of tickets given to CTA bus drivers.
Fox Chicago News and the Better Government Association examined more than 9,000 Chicago red-light camera tickets issued to vehicles with municipal plates since 2006.
M-plates signify the vehicle is owned by a government agency. We found red-light camera tickets for cars used the mayor’s office, cars driven by water reclamation commissioners and even cars assigned to the revenue department, which collects the fines for those tickets.
In all those departments, the rules say the person driving the car is responsible for paying the ticket.
But not at the CTA, which is the biggest red-light camera offender with more than 4,800 tickets.
CTA President Richard Rodriguez said the organization routinely pays the fines for the hundreds of red light camera tickets issued to bus drivers each year, adding up to $227,000 since 2006 so far.
“We’re the organization that’s responsible for the tickets. It is our responsibility to pay them. We own the vehicles.”
FOX Chicago watched downtown as buses gunned through intersections as the light turned red over and over again.
Bus drivers used to pay the tickets, until their union sued the CTA.
The Amalgamated Transit Union said in a statement, “Our number one priority is safety. [However] bus drivers are under constant pressure from the CTA to make their routes on schedule, especially during the service cuts.”
“I’d feel safer as a rider if I thought that the drivers were concerned about having to pay for running a red light,” Andy Shaw, of the Better Government Association, said.
Shaw said taxpayers should not have to pay for someone else’s driving mistake.
“I resent the fact that my tax dollars and/or the fares that I pay on the CTA are going to the city of Chicago to pay for tickets. In effect, this is a hidden tax on CTA riders,” he said.
The CTA told FOX Chicago while drivers do not pay for the red light camera violations, they are disciplined if they receive too many.
We found some drivers getting as many as nine tickets since the cameras were put in place.
Under new rules, drivers can be suspended for as little as one ticket, and fired if they get four tickets in two years.
“We’re holding our employees accountable,” Rodriguez said, “meaning that having a safety violation on your record and terminating or losing your job, I think is just as big a motivator as having to pay for a red light ticket.”
Rodriguez said that discipline is paying off. The number of red light violations is down 34 percent over the past two years.
Still, residents we talked to said they should not have to foot the bill for bad driving.
One Chicago woman said, “If I have to pay mine, they should pay theirs.”