Red Light Camera Tickets Are Going Unpaid

A growing percentage of drivers caught by red-light cameras around town isn't paying their tickets. But beyond sending their names to a collection agency, there's little the city of Columbus can do to collect that money.   Nearly $1.6 million in Columbus, Missouri much of which would go to the city's public safety department. The department has used these fines to pay for new police cruisers and the city's summer-crime strike force.

Last year, 28 percent of all red-light-camera citations issued by Columbus was sent to a collection agency, up from 12 percent in 2007. Part of any funds collected now would go to the collection agency and Redflex, which operates the cameras for the city. The poor economy might be one reason why drivers aren't paying, said Deputy Public Safety Director George Speaks. A $95 ticket is a big hit.  But once your ticket is sent to a collection agency, the fine grows to $120. If you don't pay, the city will send you a notice. After 90 days, your case is sent to Capital Recovery, a collection agency. Running a red light is a civil infraction that doesn't add points to your license.

Capital Recovery collects about 17 percent of the delinquent violations the city sends its way, said Craig Klein, the company's president. He said the national collection rate in civil cases such as these is less than 10 percent. "The only way to attack it is to file lawsuits," Klein said. But that would likely cost the city more than it's worth, said City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer. If the problem grows, he'll consider it. Speaks said city officials are discussing reporting scofflaws to credit agencies.

Stephanie Palmer, a victims advocate in Pfeiffer's office, has three unpaid tickets. Two offenses were captured by the camera at Livingston and Fairwood avenues. The tickets say Palmer didn't stop completely before turning on red. "I'm not sure if I didn't come to a complete stop," she said. "Usually I'm pretty good." In all, there are 169 individuals, companies, and agencies with three or more outstanding citations, totaling close to 900 unpaid tickets.

The biggest offender is the holding company for Avis and Budget rental cars. That company is responsible for 144 unpaid tickets. University Area Commissioner Ahmed Ebady has five unpaid tickets. He said contractors who maintain his residential properties and drive vehicles registered in his name must be responsible. "If the city is going to come after me for a moving violation, let them come up with proof who was driving," Ebady said.

Speaks said the cameras reduce crashes. He said right-angle crashes have fallen by 73 percent at the 18 intersections where cameras have been installed. "The system works," he said.