NEW YORK - Cashless tolling seems like a win-win. Still in its infancy in our area, it has reduced traffic, commuting times, and vehicle emissions, making it good for the environment.
And it's already generating big bucks in profit for agencies that run it - like the MTA, which oversees E-Z Pass on bridges and tunnels in New York City.
But we're hearing from scores of consumers who are are saying it's a big loss for them after getting hit with fines in the thousands - facing collections - even after some say they've paid the tolls.
"This is the devil." That's what's Suffolk resident Bill Brienza has nicknamed his E-Z Pass. "No pun intended. This is highway robbery," he said.
Brienza recently got socked with thousands in fines after his account balance went into the negative.
"It's an entangled conundrum of a mess," laments Brienza.
Bill was seeing red when orange envelopes kept coming even after he says he paid the tolls.
"If you replenish your E-Z Pass they take the balance (due) at replenish," remarks Brienza. "They're still sending you a bill for the toll and the violation. They're double dipping, they're getting paid two times," he said.
Here's an an example. One $8 toll violation carries a fine of $100. E-Z Pass says Brienza owed $108 in unpaid tolls. That carried a fine totaling $2500 - nearly a 23% mark-up.
"They're saying I owe them $2500," complains Brienza.
Another E-Z Pass customer says while her online account read "no violations" - she was carrying a fine on a 50 cent toll for $50 dollars! 100 times the original amount.
All in all she was billed $190 in unpaid tolls, plus an additional $2,100 in fines and penalties.
"I don't understand how any entity is able to charge 12 times the amount of a fee,' she said.
Carolyn Rodriguez-Dondero.is livid she's in collections after she says she wasn't warned she even had violations.
"Prior to October 10th it (the sign at the tolls) would tell you when your account was low, then I would go and replenish it. That was our contract with E-Z Pass," recalls Carolyn.
Now motorists with unpaid balances are receiving threats.
"I just got a letter yesterday that says if I don't pay by the 26th, they're going to suspend my registration. I need help Nina," says Brienza.
We're on it Bill. We contacted the MTA and Bill called his local assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer-Amato's office, which has been inundated with complaints about E-Z Pass fines.
Both customers were granted a one time courtesy and had nearly 6 grand in penalties dismissed.
"If I could give a big hug right now, I would," said Brienza.
The MTA recommends E-Z Pass customers sign up for mobile alerts that send email or text notifications when a balance is low.
It also promised to waive all initial first time violation fees once it's received full payment for tolls owed. Carolyn said that didn't happen in her case.
The correct way to get the fees waived is to send E-Z Pass a brief dispute dispute (return receipt requested) along with your payment by check.
Full MTA/E-Z Pass statement:
"We worked closely with our customers to resolve these situations and waived all initial violation fees once we received full payment for tolls owed, a courtesy we are providing to assist our customers in the transition to Cashless Tolling. To better keep track of an E-ZPass account and to avoid situations like these, we highly recommend that our E-ZPass customers sign up for Mobile Alerts, where they can receive low balance notifications via email or text."
The use of an E-ZPass when there are no funds available is a violation and can result in fees being assessed.
As the low balance indicators at toll booths were removed, we initiated a public outreach campaign to proactively reach out to E-ZPass customers and recommend they sign up for Mobile Alerts to receive email and/or text messages of important information regarding their E-ZPass account. Mobile Alerts sends notifications for low balances, failed payments, successful replenishments, increased replenishment amounts, and payment method expirations. Customer can login to their account at www.e-zpassny.com, go to Account Profile, and opt-in to Mobile Alerts. Customer must have a cell phone number and email address listed on their account.
We also highly recommend our customers who make one-time payments to closely monitor their E-ZPass account and usage, so that they can sufficiently replenish and fund their E-ZPass account to match their usage.
To ensure that all users of MTA toll facilities pay their fair share, a series of enforcement measures were put in place to tackle toll payment evasion and chronic toll scofflaws, this included implementing a violation fee of $100 at our major facilities (RFK, Hugh Carey, Queens Midtown, Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Verrazano).
Before sending a violation notice to an E-ZPass customer, the system will re-check the customer account for a 10-day period to see if the balance has become good. If it has, the toll will post to the customer account at the E-ZPass rate and no violation notice is sent. If the account is not replenished within this period, a violation notice is issued for the toll plus a $50 or $100 fee per transaction, depending upon the facility, and the customer has 30 days to pay. The fee is automatically waived on first-time notices if the toll is paid by the due date.
Cashless Tolling has generated significant and sustained improvements for motorists and the environment through decreased travel times, reduced congestion, lower carbon emissions, and has improved safety throughout the system.
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