Steve Lopez: Are you ticked off by a traffic ticket?
If so, did you choke when you saw the fee?
Traffic camera tickets, issued when you're caught on video running a red light, used to cost a few hundred dollars. But in the last couple of years, some are as high as $500-$600, says Steve Miller of Ticketbust.com, which tries to knock down the fees or get tickets dismissed altogether.
"Business is booming," said Miller, who told me that Californians are also ticked off about speeding ticket fines that run as high as several hundred dollars. "In the last two years, we've seen over a 100% increase in business each year."
Look, if someone's blowing red lights or barreling down a highway 90 miles an hour with a phone to the ear, I don't have much sympathy. But for questionable or relatively minor infractions, working folks are being hammered by fee increases imposed to fill budget gaps. Is it fair to charge someone half a month's rent, or the cost of a month's supply of food, for a slow-rolling turn as a light goes from yellow to red?
"They're dinging every single person then can," said Susan Novacoski, a registered nurse who opened her mail one day in November to find that she'd been hit with a $556 fee for allegedly running a red light in Loma Linda.
Novacoski didn't recall running a light, but didn't want to have to lose a day of work proving it. As a widow with a teenage daughter and a fulltime job at "a short-staffed hospital," she said, "I do not have a lot of time to play Perry Mason." She reluctantly decided to pay $219 to Ticketbust.com to handle the ticket, only to find a few days later that the ticket had been dismissed because of technical problems with the video camera ticketing system.
In fact, Loma Linda has since gotten rid of all its cameras because of complaints by citizens. Novacoski said that didn't do her any good. She's still out $219 for a violation she claims she didn't commit, and she struck out after wasting hours trying to get Loma Linda to cover that cost or at least give her an apology.
Do you have a horror story of your own?
If so, court is in session.
Photo: An intersection in Costa Mesa. Credit: Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times