By Dorothy Tucker and Carol Thompson
CHICAGO (CBS) — Sandee Wright received two speeding tickets in the mail earlier this year. She and her husband live in a western suburb. But their tickets came from a speed camera in Chicago shortly after the city lowered the ticketing threshold to six miles an hour over the speed limit. The speed camera that caught the Wright’s car is at 4831 W. Lawrence Ave.
“The first ticket … I paid it. A while later, I got a second ticket and I was about ready to pay for it and then I heard your report,” Wright said.
In that report from late July, the CBS 2 Investigators discovered that a speed camera warning sign on Cicero leading to that Lawrence camera had a typo. A misprint. One wrong letter.
The sign informed drivers that camera enforcement hours were from 6 AM to 9:30 AM. The sign should have read 9:30 PM.
Chicago Department of Transportation sign shop put up the sign and didn’t notice the mistake. Neither did speed camera program vendor, Verra Mobility, who is responsible for regularly inspecting warning signs. Both missed this mistake on the Cicero sign going back to July 2020.
Wright used the information from this latest CBS 2 Investigation into speed cameras to fight the ticket she hadn’t paid. “I contested the ticket stating that these tickets should not have been issued,” said Wright. She included a photo of the sign from the CBS 2 report.
Indisputable proof that prompted the city to act. “I think they looked at it and figured, well, she’s got us. You’ve got them,” Wright said. Her contested ticket got dismissed.
And, then a surprise. “They sent me a second email in reference to the first ticket, saying it was in error and that I could request a refund if it already has been paid,” Wright said.
Wright requested and received a refund for the $35 ticket by late September.
Speed Camera Ticket Refunds
Sandee Wright isn’t the only one who received a refund.
The CBS 2 Investigators have been emailing and calling being bounced around from one city department to another for months trying to track down how many refunds the city issued as a result of the misprint.
After months of pressure, we finally have an answer. The Chicago Department of Finance fessed up that 18,251 tickets where drivers had already paid the fines got tossed. That resulted in $831,943.52 in refunds back in drivers’ pockets.
But those refunds weren’t just for that misprinted sign on Cicero. In the July investigation, CBS 2 found a second misprinted sign. That one is on Jeffery Boulevard, leading to a speed camera around the corner at 1901 E. 75th St.
That’s where we introduced you to Angelisa Winding. She received several tickets from that 75th street camera.
The speed camera warning sign she passes coming home from work sits on Jeffery. When CBS 2 checked it, the enforcement hours read 6 AM to 9 AM. Again, the same wrong letter typo. AM should have been PM.
“My question is, why am I getting a ticket if it says 6 AM to 9 AM,” asked Winding who got issued some tickets after 9 AM. That sign has been wrong since December 2020.
We checked back in and learned she got money back for five of her tickets. The money was applied to other fines she owes.
But the financial fallout from those misprinted signs goes beyond the refunds. There’s a bigger problem, a bigger loss to the city and potentially taxpayers.
An additional 15,013 tickets got dismissed before drivers ever paid the fines. Those dismissed tickets add up to $972,207.24.
We discovered the city also dismissed 17,688 warning notices. Those are issued for drivers caught for the first time speeding under a particular license plate.
At least one viewer reached out to the CBS 2 Investigators and told us she contested a ticket nowhere near those misprinted signs, based on what she believed to be an invalid warning notice. Her warning notice was triggered by the Lawrence Ave. camera. When she went in for her hearing, she learned the city had dismissed the warning notice. The Administrative Law Judge then dismissed the ticket she got miles away from the misprinted warning sign.
All of these dismissed and refunded tickets are causing another issue for the city.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot lowered the ticketing threshold from 10 miles an hour over the limit to 6 miles over the limit in late 2020 to help close a then $1.2 billion dollar budget gap, hoping to generate millions more in revenue.
This year, Mayor Lightfoot announced next year’s budget hole, smaller but still significant. “Our projected gap for 2022 is $733 million,” she said on August 11.
Now, it appears, that budget gap might be growing. When you add up the refunds issued and the tickets dismissed, the colossal misprint mistake adds up to nearly two million dollars.
So, who’s ultimately to blame and who will ultimately pay?
CDOT would not answer whether anyone in its department was disciplined for putting up the wrong signs. A CDOT spokesman did say it was made very clear to the speed camera program vendor, Verra Mobility “…that their performance with regard to monitoring signage was unacceptable.” CDOT added, “…rigorous new protocols were established for sign inspections. These steps have been working effectively.”
But under the contract Verra Mobility has with the city of Chicago, the city could ask Verra to pay the $1.8M back. CDOT says that won’t happen and downplays the amount of money lost, saying “The goal of Chicago’s Children’s Safety Zone program is not to issue tickets, but to encourage safer driving behavior and discourage speeding.”
The Department of Finance tells CBS 2 that if you believe you are owed a refund because of those misprinted signs and have not yet received it you can contact the city call center at (312) 744-7275 to confirm your ticket is eligible for a refund.
If you received a speeding ticket after the ticketing threshold was lowered in March, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact CBS 2 Investigative Producer Carol Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling (312) 899-2250 or by using the form below.