Ed Ellis of Temple Hills said when both he and his mother were issued speeding tickets in Washington D.C. while driving downhill, it wasn’t the $150 fines that bothered him as much as the unfair location of the speed camera—at the bottom of a hill on Branch Avenue.

The problem is, according to Ellis, that “a speed camera was set up going downhill with the speed limit being 25 miles per hour, but gravity going downhill makes you go 35 to 40.”

The whole operation, he said, “was a dirty way to steal people’s money.”

Ellis is not the only motorist questioning the D.C. police’s use of cameras in locations that seem geared more to snagging unsuspecting motorists than impacting crashes. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic Reports, D.C. collected a record-setting $55.1 million in fines from automated traffic devices last year. From October 2011 to April 2012, the city raked in $40.3 million in speed camera and red light tickets. Washington has issued 419,513 speed camera tickets and 52, 797 red light tickets.

“The city needed additional revenue and that’s why they did it. It wasn’t for traffic safety reasons,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson John Townsend III. “They’re picking the pockets of motorists and plundering the pocketbooks of motorists.”

Townsend said the face value of traffic tickets has increased by 150 percent.

Last year, the District also collected a record high $92.6 million in parking meter fines, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. That amount was $12 million more than in 2010. In 2011, 1.6 million parking tickets were written. District traffic officer write an average of $370,000 worth of tickets each day.

Traffic cameras implemented during the administration of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s were reportedly placed to cover a $172 million deficit. Cameras were also used during previous mayoral administrations.

Motorists are angry because of the expense of parking. Meters in most places allow seven minutes of parking for a quarter. Some city meters charge as much as $l8 per hour, officials said.

Motorists also find it unfair that some cameras are hidden behind trees and bridges.

Fines depend on how much the driver goes over the speed limit: 1-10 miles is $75; 11-15 miles over is $125; 16-20miles over costs $150; 21-25 is $200; and 26-30 is $250.
Officials blame technology for creating the machines. But it can also help motorists to avoid getting busted.

Said John Lisle, a spokesman for the District’s Department of Transportation, “People can pay by credit card or they can pay by phone” to avoid running out and incurring a fine.

Paul Orsinger used his cell phone to buy 20 minutes on a parking meter through an automated D.C. parking system recently, instead of scrounging around for quarters. “It’s convenient,” he said.

Mark Mueller got two $125 speeding tickets for going 41 miles per hour downhill in a “quiet” 30 mile-per-hour zone. He said the city should be ashamed for going after residents so blatantly.

“Their perception is most of these people who are getting these tickets live outside of the District, so we don’t have to worry about them. ‘They can’t vote us in, they can’t vote us out.’” Townsend said. “So it comes down to raw politics.”

Only voters will determine if the dust-up over speed camera and traffic tickets will cost any elected officials their jobs. Meanwhile, D.C. police have made available a list of camera locations.

Jessika Morgan

AFRO Staff Writer