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Coalition decries excessive traffic fines

Thomas O'Neil-White

Not paying a traffic ticket in the City of Buffalo on time can have a snowball effect on your finances, especially if you are working poor or straddling the poverty line. On top of the fine, the Buffalo Common Council approved the creation of additional fees last summer that could add up to $100 for every ticket. Last year the city brought in $2 million in revenue from traffic fines. Additionally, fines must be paid in full.

The highest areas of ticketing concentration has been on the east and west sides of the city. The Fair Fines and Fees Coalition is a local group advocating for redress from a policy that they believe takes a heavier toll on lower income communities.

“There’s a heavy culture of criminalizing poverty in this city,” said Natasha Soto, Director of Black Love in the Rust, a local advocacy group. “You ticket someone excessively, they can’t afford it or they can’t afford to miss work to pay these tickets and go see a judge. You may suspend their license, which then reduces their ability to go work and pay these tickets. And if you’re caught driving with a suspended license they incarcerate you.”

It is all a vicious cycle said Sarah Ruth, a local job developer who works with the formerly incarcerated.

“I have a young man right, he got some traffic tickets and couldn’t pay the bill,” she said. “He was slapped with additional fines and he couldn’t stop himself from driving his car, even on a suspended license. So what he ended up doing was selling his car to pay the tickets off.”

Ruth says 58% of companies in Western New York are inaccessible by bus, hence the necessity for the license and car.

She says something as simple as instituting a payment plan so people do not have to pay a fine all at once would help alleviate many of the associated problems.

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