Government & Politics
 

School zone traffic camera may be issuing tickets at wrong time

Nancy Iovino was surprised when school zone speeding tickets started showing up in her mailbox last month — first one, then two, and they kept coming.

“All of a sudden all these lights were going off,” she recalled of a mid-August drive down Orleans Avenue. “It was almost like a Hollywood premiere.”

The operating room nurse knew school was back in session — but she gets to work each morning before the reduced 20 mph school zone speed limits go into effect between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m..

“I didn’t think anything of it because I know school zones are starting at 7 a.m. and it was 6:40,” she said. “Then suddenly I get a ticket and I get another ticket.”

Iovino received six tickets in total, beginning in August.

And she’s not the only one. WWLTV reporters spoke with three drivers who said they received tickets with inaccurate times as well.

“You know when the time comes because the lights are blinking,” she said. “When I am traveling at 6:40 the lights are not blinking.”

Iovino leaves her Mid-City home at about 6:30 a.m. each morning to head to Tulane University Hospital. Her short commute doesn’t take long. But the tickets she’s received have recorded times of 7:38 a.m., 7:40 a.m. and 7:41 a.m. — nearly an hour after she’s been off the road.

“I’m at work at 6:47,” she said. “How can I be going through then?”

Iovino’s best guess: She’s caught in an alternate reality where the internal clock of the Orleans Avenue camera she passes each morning is off by an hour.

City spokesman Trey Caruso said the city is in contact with its contractor “to resolve the situation.”

“The traffic camera contractor, American Traffic Solutions, is responsible for calibrating and maintaining the cameras,” Caruso wrote.

“We have not yet confirmed that these tickets were issued erroneously, and are working with ATS to make that determination,” he said. (American Traffic Solutions recently rebranded as Verra Mobility.)

Iovino contacted Councilman Joe Giarrusso,* who represents her area, and said his office helped arrange an appeal for all six tickets at a single administrative hearing next month.

When The Lens first started surveying school zone lights in January 2015, only two in five worked properly. That number improved over the next two years. When we last checked in May 2017, we found 82 percent of the school zone lights were working properly.

The speeding cameras are another contentious issue. Neighboring Jefferson Parish has banned them, as have some states, but they produce tens of millions of dollars of revenue per year, and the city relies on their income to help balance its books.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell campaigned on the issue, pledging to scale back or even eliminate traffic cameras. But her office has yet to put forth a plan for altering the program.

In July, the Advocate reported that Cantrell was considering a compromise: keep the cameras in school zones but only operate them during school zone hours.

Iovino is contesting the tickets. But she’s worried other people got bogus tickets and may not fight them.

“Nobody wanted to come forward because they didn’t want to rock the boat. Because they take so much time (to fight),” she said of friends who got tickets. “You have to rock the boat a little bit because this is ludicrous.”

Iovino is hoping for a speedy and fair resolution.

“I believe in the system so I’m going to contest them and do what I have to do.”

*Correction: This article incorrectly identified Iovino’s councilman. Her council representative is Joe Giarrusso. (Sept. 20, 2018)

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.