Indianapolis traffic court ignores millions of calls
Trying to ask a question, want to get information about paying a ticket or interested in rescheduling a court date? Good luck! WTHR finds frustrations run high as the court answers less than 1% of phone calls.
When Randy Siders decided to fight a recent speeding ticket, he didn't realize he'd also be fighting an outdated phone system at the Marion County Traffic Court.
"I've tried to call the court hundreds of times," Siders said. "I even set my phone on auto re-dial so every three seconds it would redial ... I did that for four days and still couldn't get through. It's like there's nobody to answer questions."
Siders is not alone.
With approximately 175,000 traffic citations issued in Marion County each year, the county's Court 13 -- better known as Traffic Court -- is one of the busiest courtrooms in Indiana.
But those who try to contact the court by phone are almost always disappointed and frustrated with a system designed to turn away callers rather than help them.
Millions and millions not served
William Young runs Court 13. The exuberant and outspoken Superior Court judge says the court simply cannot keep up with the daily flood of phone calls -- an average of 5,200 every day.
"People are going to call. They're going to have concerns. They're going to have questions. We understand that," Young said. "We just don't have the technology or the resources."
The judge says the county has been aware of the problem for several years, after and audit showed the traffic court receives about 1.9 million phone calls each year.
How many of those phone calls are answered by traffic court staff?
"About 18,000 is what we figured got answered," the judge said.
That means less than 1% of calls to Marion County Traffic Court (18,000 out of 1.9 million) actually get through.
"Is is woefully inadequate? Absolutely. Is it something we wished we could fix a long time ago? Absolutely. We recognize this is a huge problem for people. We understand that."
For most traffic court patrons, it means tremendous frustration.
"It's just busy all day. Nobody ever answers the phone. Never," said Debra Michael, who recently received a notice of violation from the court. Michael has been trying to contact court staff by phone because she does not think she committed the violation.
"I've been calling a whole week and you can't get through at all," she said. "I live all the way over on the west side and had to get a friend to bring me down here because they don't answer the phone."
Michael's phone calls are among more than 1.8 million calls annually to Marion County Traffic Court that are never answered. If you hope to speak to someone at the court by phone, the numbers suggest you'd have to call at least 105 times to get through.
Sometimes the number is much higher.
382 tries … and counting
13 Investigates began calling the Marion County Traffic Court last week to see just how bad the problem is. WTHR staff repeatedly called every day -- in the morning and afternoon – during the court's business hours (Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm). All of the calls were made to traffic court phone numbers listed online and on traffic citations and court summons issued to the public. Each time, we heard the same recording:
"Thank you for calling Marion County Traffic Court. Due to our high volume of calls, we cannot answer your call at this time. Please call back later. Thank you."
Immediately following the recording, the phone call was automatically disconnected.
WTHR investigative producer Cyndee Hebert was able to speak to a traffic court staff member on her 125th phone call.
Investigative reporter Bob Segall called the court 382 times; not a single call was answered.
Judge Young was not surprised.
"I'll guarantee you your chances of getting through are not good. It's just a fact," he said. "We know it's a problem."
Young says he takes that problem into consideration while on the bench.
"That's why we try to be extremely lenient if people miss a court date. We'll figure it out and give them a new one," he said. "We're very sympathetic and understanding of people's difficulties, and we understand this creates tremendous stress for people."
Changing the message
While court staff have been aware of the phone problem for several years, they have not been rushing to fix it.
Early Monday afternoon, at the same time WTHR staff were unsuccessfully trying to reach the court via phone, 13 Investigates saw no one answering phones at traffic court offices.
There are no plans to add workers to help answer more calls.
Instead, the court is working on a new phone system that will direct callers to recorded messages to answer their questions. Young says that might be ready by the end of the year.
"The new phone system will give us 24 hours a day, seven days a week coverage for 90 to 95 percent of people's questions," he said.
"I'd rather talk to a real person," said Victoria Martin, who came to traffic court in person Monday after five failed attempts to reach the court by phone. "What's wrong with letting us talk to someone?"
The judge says talking on the phone is not how traffic court conducts its business. Setting and continuing court dates, extensions for paying traffic fines and releasing default judgments all require a request in person or in writing.
"There's actually very little we can do for most people on the phone," Young said. "The more people we can tell ‘calling on the phone is not going to help you,' the better off we're going to be."
While the court begins implementation of a new phone system over the next several months, it will be business as usual when it comes to calling the Marion County Traffic Court.
Don't expect anyone to answer your phone call.
"If you really need to reach someone on the phone for something that cannot wait, you're going to have to come in," the judge explained. "That's not a good option and we recognize this is a huge problem for people … but for now, that's how it is."
Address to reach the Marion County Traffic Court by mail:
MARION COUNTY TRAFFIC COURT
8115 E. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46219