BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Red-light camera tickets are getting to drivers' mailboxes as usual, but a processing delay means there won't be any consequences for more than 5,000 drivers if they just don't pay.
American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona company mostly responsible for Florida's proliferation of red-light cameras, has not been processing tickets fast enough.
That's a problem because Florida law says both a traffic ticket, and a second ticket that will go out if the first is not paid, have to be processed within 60 days of a traffic violation. If both tickets aren't processed, the initial fine is still sent. But it can never be enforced.
That means some red-light runners in Broward and Palm Beach counties who got a ticket recently and don't pay their $158 within the 30-day time limit don't have anything to worry about.
While the delays might be good news for red-light runners, some Broward and Palm Beach County cities are being cheated out of revenue that would have come from the citations.
"This is just not an acceptable business practice," said Pembroke Pines Commissioner Iris Siple.
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Tickets may have no teeth if a Uniform Traffic Citation for not paying isn't received soon after the 30-day time limit to pay the original ticket ends, said Pembroke Pines Assistant Finance Director Cecilia Pendergast.
"But [red-light runners] should still pay," she said.
About 40 percent of people won't pay a red-light ticket unless they get an additional citation for not paying the original ticket. Drivers who get the additional citation can't renew their license without paying a much higher fine and the driver's license may be suspended.
Based on the number of tickets that weren't processed within the time limit, Pembroke Pines will lose about $200,000. Margate will lose more than $74,000, and Fort Lauderdale will lose about $40,000. Sunrise will lose $20,000. Boynton Beach will lose $18,000. Data from other cities that use ATS was not available.
West Palm Beach traffic personnel said ATS hasn't missed any deadlines there but has "many times come close," said Chris Robinson, a police employee who oversees the program.
"We had failures," ATS south Florida regional Vice President Christopher Merdon told the Pembroke Pines city commission. "I'm taking responsibility for that. We had staff issues and a huge volume increase at the holidays. And we damaged you by it."
Leaders in Pembroke Pines are irate and say they'll cancel or not renew their contract with the red-light camera company unless it will reimburse them for all costs incurred in the city's red-light camera program in the past and future.
Pembroke Pines Commissioner Siple said that the most recent backups happened in November and mid-January, but not during the holidays.
ATS has added 23 Florida processors since the holidays to prevent future failures, Merdon said. ATS also offered to pay Pembroke Pines police overtime when they are processing tickets to help make up for the delays. Both ATS and a police officer review red-light camera footage before decided if it's a violation.
ATS spokesman Charles Territo said the company has addressed the problem to prevent future delays for its Florida customers.
"ATS prides itself on our customer service," he said. "Make no mistake, we take this very seriously and have already taken steps to ensure it doesn't ever happen again."
This is one of many issues of "nonperformance," said Pembroke Pines City Manager Charles Dodge, pushing leaders there to end or not renew the city's ATS contract. Others include the company's refusal to take down cameras that aren't generating any tickets but still cost money to run and the company's failure to set up cameras to ticket drivers for turning right on red at intersections where such turns are prohibited.
Other cities said it's a normal bump in the road to fully establish red-light camera programs.
"There was a backlog, but it hasn't been a problem for us," said Margate City Attorney Eugene Steinfeld. "It's just getting started."
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