At the heart of any congestion pricing scheme is the ringing of Manhattan or Manhattan’s central business district with a cashless tolling system, that system is already being tested at MTA bridges and tunnels as well as the Thruway Authority’s Tappan Zee Bridge. While it works for many, the problems that have arisen show that this system is not ready for it’s Manhattan debut. Here’s why:
At the Tappan Zee complaints about unread tolls, high penalties ($100 on a $5 missed toll) and heavy handed collection efforts have prompted the Thruway Authority to announce an amnesty program and State Senator David Carlucci to propose the “Toll Payer Protection Act” in the State Senate (S7344). How did things get so bad with EZ Pass at the Tappan Zee? As reported on lohud.com there are three different private companies and two government agencies overseeing tolling operations. The system is fraught with errors from sloppy data handoffs, unread EZ Pass tags, insufficient notices to motorists, and scant customer service. This has left millions of dollars uncollected and burdened some motorists with tens of thousands of dollars in penalties that they didn’t know they had incurred.
To top it off motorists who do not have EZ Pass have no way of checking to see if they have an outstanding balance or are subject to violations. The EZ Pass website does not permit searches for open tolls by license plate. Then, if a motorist learns there are violations there are no opportunities to review the substance of the claim or demand a hearing. With three unpaid violations triggering a registrations suspension, it is easy to see how cashless tolling can lead to a nightmare.
New York State Thruway’s amnesty program is set to run during the first three weeks of February. Motorists must pay the tolls they owe but will be granted an amnesty on the fines. Unfortunately, this program is only for passenger vehicles, but we are workig on extending it to commercial vehicles as well. Also, lohud held a forum where motorists were able to ask questions and explain their situation to a group that included Senator Carlucci, two personal debt attorneys, and AAA’s John Corlett. Members of the NYS Thruway were in attendance as well.
This is cold comfort for drivers who are looking at tens of thousands of dollars in fees, companies who have their freight confiscated, or patients who will be unable to drive to treatments. To best protect yourself, and your fleet, from EZ Pass surprises on the road, here are a few things you can do:
- Make sure you have EZ Pass tags for each vehicle and that the accounts are up to date.
- Check your EZ Pass accounts regularly for errors.
- Make sure that your method of payment is current. If your credit card on file has expired or maxed out, replace it. If the account balance is low, add to it.
- Set up e-mail alerts with EZ Pass (make sure they aren’t sent to spam)
- Make sure the DMV has your correct mailing address. They can’t send you a notice if they have an old address.
- No EZ Pass? If you went through a cashless tolling facility but are waiting for the bill, keep calling EZ Pass at 1-800-333-8655 (TOLL). The EZ Pass website does not permit a search for unpaid tolls without a bill number. One cannot search by plate alone. If you never receive an invoice, to avoid surprises you must call to find out if any money is due.
Senator Carlucci had it right. With the way cashless tolls operate now, “to go from New City to Long Island, you’re going to need a credit check”. With the current collection problems, it’s easy to see how thousands of motorists could face suspensions, vehicle impoundment, and loss of livelihood all without due process notice and opportunity for a hearing.