School bus camera tickets still raising questions in some parts of Texas

image: camera lens

Law enforcement by camera.

Amy Hamilton lives in Elgin, a town on the east side of Austin. Last month she got a collection demand for a $422 overdue fine for driving past a school bus that was stopped. She acknowledges that she did it; an online video link shows her car passing the bus.

And those are the only simple things about what should be a simple case.

The demand letter came from a collections group in Carrollton, in North Texas. The letter says it was a “city of Pflugerville” bus she passed. That town, just north of Austin, doesn’t operate school buses.

The letter says she ignored the original ticket mailed to her in May, so that a late penalty was added to the original fine. Hamilton says she never got the original notice. It’s an all-too-common occurrence when agencies issue tickets or bills for things like automated tollway charges or red-light camera infractions to motorists who, at the time, don’t even know they’ve been tagged.

The collection company says the infraction happened in Austin. But officials in both Austin and Pflugerville deny issuing the original ticket or, in fact, having the authority to do so, since no officer in their employ saw the infraction or knew anything about it.

Who does know about it? BusPatrol, the private company that owns the camera that captured the video — a company, not any political subdivision with ticket-issuing power. The company got involved with Texas school bus safety after a major scandal involving payoffs and federal felony charges took down officials of another company originally involved, as well as leaders of a now-defunct school bus agency in Dallas.

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