- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2012

D.C. Council members are actively looking at ways to reduce traffic fines in light of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s recent plan to greatly increase the use of automated enforcement on the city’s streets.

Mr. Gray’s spending plan for the coming year calls for a dramatic uptick in “traffic calming initiatives” — such as cameras to catch moving violations at intersections, crosswalks and other traffic scenarios — to raise $24.8 million in revenue as part of his attempt to close a $172 million budget gap without new taxes or fees.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, floated the idea of reducing certain fines, particularly a crosswalk violation that can result in a $250 ticket, because enforcement is expected to be more consistent and efficient in the near future.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and other city lawmakers agreed that fines and fees are getting out of hand in the District and need a second look.

But it remains to be seen whether motorists will see immediate relief as part of fiscal 2013 budget talks or if they need to wait for a task force to hash out whether the best approach to traffic safety is through the motoring public’s wallets.

“It won’t be for this budget,” said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. Mr. Evans said a “comprehensive look” at fines is in order because his constituents tend to inadvertently violate traffic laws when someone suddenly enters the street near a crosswalk or encounter other potentially ambiguous scenarios while driving.

Mr. Wells‘ office is exploring the fiscal impact of a reduction in certain moving violations. His staff described the inquiry as a look at the fine-adjustments’ feasibility, and not a backdoor attempt to raise revenue. His colleagues appeared to support the idea Wednesday during their budget work session.

A spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said the office did receive a “broad question” pertaining to the crosswalk-monitoring program proposed by the mayor, “which is a very small component of automated enforcement and a negligible component of revenue.”

While there is a groundswell of support among the council members to decrease the fines, several members see it as a longer-term project.

“To me, at the moment, my thought is, we need to look at it a little more before we make changes,” said council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat.

While all members stress their concern for pedestrian and motorist safety, talks will center on a theoretical approach to compliance with the law.

“Have we really, by increasing the fine, increased compliance?” Ms. Cheh asked.