Council, Gray square off over lower traffic fines

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Photo - Traffic camera (Examiner file photo)
Traffic camera (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Members of the D.C. Council squared off Monday against Mayor Vincent Gray over how high traffic camera fines should be.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, said Gray's new plan to reduce the fines -- though not by as much as some council members want -- is intended to ensure that the cameras continue to reap profits for the city rather than promote safety.

D.C. raked in nearly $85 million from the cameras over the past year, a record.

Gray has said that while the cameras are primarily to ensure public safety, the extra cash does help the city's bottom line.

Gray announced Friday that he would drop tickets from speed cameras by $25 --from $75 to $50 -- for those caught driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit. Fines for driving 11 to 15 mph over the limit would drop from $125 to $100.

But Cheh and other council members want to cut the ticket fines by even more -- to $50 for most speeding tickets and other traffic infractions.

"The mayor does not appear to have done any analysis [on how much fines should be]," Cheh said. "We need to have our system be legitimate and be perceived as legitimate."

Cheh and other council members want to install more cameras in the District to catch speeders, drivers who don't stop at stop signs and other scofflaws. But that additional enforcement is likely to further anger residents and hit the poor and should be coupled with smaller fines, they said.

"I'm concerned about the impact on low-income people," said Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells. "They are just one boot away from having their life fall apart."

The mayor's supporters said the fines need to be more than $100 to encourage drivers to follow the law.

"We think our proposal strikes the right balance between public safety and the fines," said mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. "We feel $50 is not enough deterrent. It just becomes the cost of doing business."

Police union chief Kris Baumann opposed any reduction in the fines at a transportation committee hearing Monday.

"The idea that we're going to encourage those that don't want to follow the laws ... is unthinkable. This is not the way to handle this," Baumann said. "They're hearing the hue and cry from the people that have been punished for their bad behavior."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner