Since cashless tolls made their New York debut motorists have reported a wide range of problems. From excessive, non-negotiable late penalties many times that of the original tolls, not receiving notices, registration suspensions, and refusal of the agencies to offer payment plans. In response State legislators Tom Abinanti (Assembly) and David Carlucci (Senate) proposed a Toll Payer Protection Act, which passed both houses of the legislature in both 2018 and 2019 only to be vetoed by Governor Cuomo both times. Rather, The New York State Thruway Authority, MTA Bridges and Tunnels, and The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced the creation of Offices of the Toll Payer Advocate Program for customers of these tolling agencies.
The Office will be designed to serve as an ombudsman to help ensure that toll payers in New York and those traveling on bi-state crossings receive fair and responsive treatment, identify and resolve problems and recommend reforms to improve customer service. The toll payer advocate program will look to ensure that toll payers do not pay more than is owed and help toll payers understand their rights and how to avoid toll violations.
The initiative is part of a comprehensive effort by New York’s tolling authorities and bi-state authorities to assist customers who are unable to resolve their toll problems using the customer service center and to recommend administrative, system and customer service reforms as cashless tolling is implemented across the New York State Thruway by the end of 2020.
Actions already taken on behalf of toll payers include:
- Reducing call wait times through enhanced technology and increased staffing at call centers.
- Improving signage at cashless tolling locations.
- Educating motorists about the Tolls By Mail and E-ZPass programs.
- Accelerating the first toll bill to 10 days of crossing.
- Upgrading the Tolls By Mail website to allow customers to search and pay for their tolls online by the license plate.
However, this pales in comparison to what the most recent version of the Toll Payer Protection Act laid out:
- Establishes and codifies into law that cashless tolling can be in done in New York. Protecting the state from the risk of lawsuits.
- Makes penalties far more reasonable, avoiding the debt spiral many motorists are finding themselves in. After the first violation, a person is only responsible for a $5 penalty and a $25 violation after the second penalty.
- Tolling authorities must send the bill in 30 days and the driver is not liable for the payment if they do not receive the notice within 30 days. Not only will a driver be able to dispute a bill but may have a hearing before a judge like any other traffic or parking ticket.
- Images that identify the driver, passengers or contents in the vehicle cannot play any role in toll billing. Additionally, images and videos cannot be made public or used by courts in any action unless it’s specifically related to an unpaid toll bill.
- Tolling authorities will be required to submit an annual report on the Toll by Mail program to the Governor, the Temporary President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the Assembly. The report must include figures like the number of tolls paid, the number of owners charged with a penalty, and the number of owners who disputed a toll bill. The report will be due before June 1st every year and must be posted online.
- Vehicular registrations can no longer be suspended due to failure to pay tolling violations.
- A driver can sign up for email or text alerts about bills incurred.
- Allows for the setup of a monthly payment plan.
- Offers an MTA Amnesty Program lasting at least 5 weeks for drivers who incurred tolls on or after November 1, 2016.
Clearly, the Toll Payer Protection Act would have done far more to help motorists and businesses who have been hurt by cashless tolling. Hopefully, the offices of the Toll Payer Advocate will work towards establishing payment plans and mechanisms to dispute tickets.
Thruway Authority customers who have been unsuccessful in resolving their toll violations through the E-ZPass New York Customer Service Center should request assistance by completing this electronic form at www.thruway.ny.gov/tpa. MTA Bridges and Tunnels customers should use this link: www.mta.info/tpa. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey customers may visit www.panynj.gov/tpa.html.