D.C. rakes in $178m from drivers in past year

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Photo - Traffic camera (Examiner file photo)
Traffic camera (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District sharply increased its take from traffic tickets in its most recent fiscal year, collecting about $178 million from drivers in a haul that outpaced the previous year's by nearly one-third.

While D.C. has increasingly relied on -- and banked plenty of money from -- a network of traffic cameras throughout the city, more than half of last year's $178.4 million collection came from other moving and parking violations.

According to data from the city's chief financial officer, those fines accounted for $93.5 million of traffic-tied penalties in the 2012 fiscal year, which wrapped up Sept. 30. That was almost a 15 percent increase from 2011, when the city made $81.4 million.

Like printing money
Revenues from traffic tickets, both automated and officer-generated, are on the rise in the District.
2010 fiscal year: $110 million
2011 fiscal year: $135 million
2012 fiscal year: $178 million
Source: D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer

And while fines for moving violations are up, the traffic cameras that target speeders and red-light runners have also become even more lucrative. In the 2012 fiscal year, The Washington Examiner first reported last week, the District took in just shy of $85 million from the cameras, a boost of about $30 million from the previous year.

"What they have told people was that officers are too busy closing murder cases to be out there writing tickets, which is what led to the public acceptance of the automated enforcement regime," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend, a frequent antagonist of the District's ticketing efforts. "There are roads paved with gold, and they are all in the District of Columbia."

In recent years, fines and forfeitures have taken on an increasingly prominent role in filling the city's coffers.

In 2002, District records show, the city collected less than $87 million in fines. By the 2012 fiscal cycle, that figure had climbed to $181 million, more than four times what the city took in from business licenses and permits that year.

But in the face of mounting criticism from lawmakers about the sizes of traffic fines and what some say is the city's dependence on them, Mayor Vincent Gray has insisted he is focused on protecting pedestrians and drivers alike.

"The public safety aspect for me is first and foremost," Gray told The Examiner last week. "We didn't necessarily see it as a revenue raiser because it raised more money than we thought it was going to raise. Obviously, the money will help to do other things in the city, but my priority will continue to be on public safety."

In May, then-D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he wanted a comprehensive review of the city's fines and fees. But Brown, facing a federal bank fraud charge, resigned in June, and other lawmakers have since opted for a narrower approach.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, a sponsor of pending legislation to reduce camera-based fines, said she intended to keep her focus on the penalties for automated tickets.

"If police officers are picking up people violating the law, I'm not interfering with that at all," Cheh said.

A spokesman for Gray also said any future reforms the administration might propose would involve changes only to the automated ticketing system.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner