Chicago red-light cameras under fire for unexplained ticket spikes [w/videos]

Chicago may once have been known as the home of the mob in US with Al Capone running things, but for several years in the 2000s it looks like a completely legal racket may have made the city millions. A recent Chicago Tribune investigation has turned up some disturbing data about how the Windy City's network of red-light cameras used to be operated that may have given out thousands of bogus tickets.

Until 2013, Chicago had a contract with a company called Redflex Traffic Systems to operate its red-light cameras. If they caught someone running the light, the video was supposed to be reviewed twice, and if accurate, the driver received a $100 fine. Redflex and the city each took a portion of the money. However, their arrangement came to an abrupt end when it was eventually discovered that the company was bribing a city official. According to the Chicago Tribune, since 2003, the government netted around $500 million in revenue from the cams.

The new investigation found that drivers might have been getting the worst end of that deal. The Chicago Tribune examined four million red-light tickets going back to 2007. It found massive spikes in the numbers of infractions at several intersections that would last for short periods of time. In one extreme case, a camera that usually ticketed one person per day shot up to 56 per day.

To make matters more confusing, the cameras would occasionally stop giving out tickets for a brief period before and after these spikes. According to the report, that could have indicated maintenance being done, but the city didn't have any record of it. In some cases, the yellow-light times would also decrease during the spikes by as much as a second, as well.

Chicagoans affected by the bad tickets may not be completely out of luck, though. As a result of the Tribune story, a group of city aldermen opened their own investigation. "We want to find out what went wrong, and we want to see refunds where the ticket was wrongly issued," said alderman Scott Waguespack to the paper.

Separately, at about the same time the report was published, a Chicago man filed a federal lawsuit against Redflex and its parent company that asks for $100 million in refunds to drivers, according to CBS News. The case has nothing to do with the ticket spikes; instead, the man claims that the company's alleged bribery makes its contract with the city fraudulent.

Scroll down to watch three videos from the Chicago Tribune explaining what happened and speaking to traffic experts.

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