Battle over red light tickets

October 20, 2009 4:43:51 PM PDT
The City of Houston and Harris County are on opposite sides of the street, facing off over a plan to get drivers to pay up when they try to beat the light. It's a battle over how to punish people who don't pay their red light camera tickets. The City of Houston believes it can collect millions of dollars in additional red light camera fees if it has a little help from Harris County. But county commissioners are not certain they want to take part.

Spend any time around a busy intersection and it's not too hard to find drivers running red lights. If that intersection is equipped with a camera, you'll get a ticket in the mail, just like driver Andre Lipkins. He's gotten two such tickets over the last two years, and admits he paid neither.

In fact, thousands of red light camera tickets have remained unpaid, leaving the City of Houston with millions of dollars of potential revenue uncollected. Now, the city wants to contract with Harris County to flag car registrations. If you don't pay the camera ticket, you don't get to renew your registration. It's an idea that's unpopular with some commissioners.

Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said, "The bottom line for me is, are we just going to cause people to end up with more fines and fees that they can't pay, and that's just going to put more people out of compliance, because these are troubled economic times."

Commissioners have put a hold on the potential contract. But over at the city, council member Sue Lovell says the county already flags registrations for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, and this idea is fairly similar.

"I think probably there are some legitimate concerns, and we just need to better educate the commissioners about the fact that they already do this," Lovell said.

But commissioners are unconvinced, and until their court acts, there is nothing the city can do to force drivers to pay those red light camera tickets, though some drivers say they pay the fines anyway, to avoid potential problems.

Driver Sal Flores said, "If it comes in, I usually do it within the week, just to avoid any other circumstances."

The toll authority says it gives ticketed drivers three or four chances to pay and even holds a hearing before flagging their registration. County commissioners are expected to discuss the topic at their next meeting, but a vote isn't expected for at least a week.

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