2/9/2012Atlanta, Georgia Stops Red Light Camera Collections
Atlanta, Georgia caught ignoring red light camera law, faces multi-million dollar state penalty.
The red light camera program in Atlanta, Georgia is effectively over. City officials admitted to WGCL-TV investigative reporter Jeff Chirico earlier this week that they would no longer pursue any collections against photo ticket recipients, leaving them free to ignore citations. That means Atlanta is likely to join Los Angeles, California and Houston, Texas as major cities that have recently shut down photo ticketing programs.
The city was caught red-handed ignoring a state law that took effect in 2009 requiring the use of certified mail for any second notice of non-payment of a red light camera ticket (view law). The city and its private vendor, Xerox/Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), sent 15,000 tickets to collections without having sent any certified notice, according to WGCL's investigation.
"The reason we had them sent certified is to ensure it's not going to the wrong address," state Senator Barry Loudermilk, primary author of the law in question, told TheNewspaper in an interview. "We've had instances where the owner of the vehicle was not the driver, and we know they weren't because the owner of the vehicle was out of the country for six months. So the registered owner is out, the citation is sent to their home, they have someone picking up their mail and it sits on their credenza for when they get back. They get back and find out that now they've got a collection notice."
Loudermilk initially wanted all citations to be sent by certified mail, but municipal representatives objected strongly because the Post Office adds $2.95 to the cost of mailing for the service. As a compromise, the law only required second and subsequent notices to be sent with signature confirmation.
In 2009, Atlanta was also caught ignoring the law's other legal requirement, lengthening yellow times at red light camera intersections by one second. This provision reduced violations and ticketing revenue by 80 percent. Atlanta eventually corrected its signal timing, and Loudermilk does not believe the city's explanation for ignoring the certified mail requirement.
"They know what the law was," Loudermilk said. "But they were cutting costs because the revenue dropped after we added the time to the yellow light. So they were trying to make up the difference."
The city now faces a significant dilemma as the law includes an enforcement provision that requires any jurisdiction using red light cameras caught violating the law's provisions must forfeit all camera revenue to the state's general fund. Though the law makes it clear that the state transportation department is "authorized to conduct an investigation into the acts and practices of the governing authority with respect to the use of traffic-control signal monitoring device," the agency has been reluctant to step in on the mailing issue. Substantiating the city's lapse would cost the city millions. Loudermilk intends to seek an attorney's general ruling clarifying the matter.
Atlanta's contract with ACS expires on March 16.