Wednesday 28th Jun 2017 - RUC Magazine

Toll Road Evaders Have a Bad Day

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Toll violation can run into some serious money. IBTTA’s Bill Cramer looks at how some US authorities are clawing back lost toll revenue…

Bill Cramer 3-11-14 IBTTA_2407Labelling toll road evaders “shameless cheats,” the Staten Island Advance is coming out strongly in favour of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to crack down on drivers who rack up five or more toll violations in 18 months.

Late last year, the Associated Press reported the state had identified 35,000 toll scofflaws who had cost the state more than $16 million in missed revenues over an 18-month span. By the New Year, Cuomo had taken action.

“Hear! Hear!” the Advance cheered in a late January editorial.

“Some of those who have gamed the system and skipped paying tolls will try to justify their law-breaking as some sort of rogue protest against high tolls. And some ordinary folks may sympathise,” the paper acknowledged. “We get the idea, but as [state] officials point out, it’s those ordinary folks who are forced pick up the tab for those who are only too willing to sponge off law-abiding drivers.”

Toll Roads Take Action

The pushback against toll evasion isn’t new, and it goes far beyond the New York metropolitan area.

  • Last month, the Pennsylvania legislature began consideration of a bill to suspend registrations for drivers who miss six or more payments or accumulate at least $500 in unpaid tolls.
  • Last week, the commissioners’ court in Harris County, Texas decided to add 30 new deputies to patrol the area’s toll roads, partly to free up officers’ time to target toll evaders. “Scofflaws on these roads have racked up $358 million in unpaid tolls, fines, and fees since 2000,” the Chronicle reported
  • Last autumn, the Maryland Transportation Authority declared a month-long amnesty to give an estimated 164,500 toll evaders a chance to clear their accounts without facing a $50 fine. “Before we begin referring toll violators to the Motor Vehicle Administration for flagging and suspending vehicle registrations, we wanted to give them one last chance to pay off their debt, with the added incentive of waiving civil penalties,” said Executive Director Milt Chaffee.

Toll Revenue Recovered: $9.1 Million

Overdue toll collections can end well—for evaders, tolling agencies, and the overwhelming majority of users who pay their tolls. In 2014, the North Texas Tollway Authority won IBTTA’s Toll Excellence Award for customer service and market outreach for its Equity of Toll Payment enforcement program.

The program collected $4.7 million in past-due tolls, secured commitments for another $4.4 million in repayments from 5,300 customers, cut the number of habitual toll evaders in half, and triggered a 22% increase in TollTag distribution.

The three-year effort was built on a commitment to fairness for the vast majority of NTTA customers who pay their tolls, and meaningful, predictable consequences for the few who abuse the system. While toll evaders risked having their vehicle registrations blocked until they paid up, the emphasis was on public communications, outreach, and education.

After legislation went into effect to enforce the program, a three-month grace period gave NTTA a window of opportunity to collect the overdue tolls and convert many of its one-time evaders into TollTag customers.

It’s All About Fairness

To tolling agencies, collecting every toll, every time is a matter of simple fairness.

“It is simply unfair to the majority of law-abiding drivers who pay their tolls that some individuals consistently seek to flout the law,” said Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. “The potential suspension of their registrations should make toll cheats think twice.”

“When scofflaws fail to pay their tolls, everyone else is forced to cover their share of the cost of maintaining and improving our seven bridges and two tunnels,” agreed MTABT Acting President Donald Spero. “Adopting this new regulation is good news for MTA Bridges and Tunnels and for the 800,000 vehicles that use our facilities on an average weekday.”

‘Shameless Cheats’ Aren’t Making a Statement

Toll scofflaws may think they’re making a statement by refusing to pay for the roads they use. At the Staten Island Advance, the editors have a different idea.

“The only statement the deadbeats make is that they are shameless cheats,” they wrote. “It’s about time officials figured out this obvious way of making them pay up. So, how come it took them so long?”

Bill Cramer is communications director at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), based in the US. This article first appeared on www.ibtta.org, February 2016