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Tolling Points

Tolling Agencies Focusing on Unpaid Accounts

Bill Cramer

With the summer season getting under way and travel picking up, tolling agencies are turning their attention to the day-in, day-out task of collecting tolls from the worst scofflaws on their systems. In Maryland and Pennsylvania, collection campaigns are stepping up to ensure all users pay their fair share and the local media are taking notice.

Both state agencies are actively pursuing customers who find themselves confronted with surprising accumulations of unpaid tolls. Both are making the case that they are simply enforcing the tolls motorists should already have been paying—and that shouldn’t be a surprise.

“Certainly, we want to collect unpaid tolls out of fairness to the 99% of our customers who do pay as expected,” Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) spokesperson John Sales told the Washington Post. “But we are far more interested in encouraging E-ZPass usage and prompt payment of tolls due, rather than trying to collect overdue tolls and fines.”

“If you believed you could do this over and over and nobody would pay any attention,” said Craig Shuey, Chief Operating Officer at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, “that has changed.”

Every Other Highway User Pays

Last year, MdTA sent out $109.7 million in fines for 2.2 million violations, collecting $41.7 million, the Post reports. Pennsylvania has more than $17 million in outstanding tolls. Wherever and whenever this happens, the balance is an amount that every other highway user has to cover—not so much by paying higher user charges, but by riding with a tolling agency that has to stretch a bit farther to deliver excellent service with fewer dollars on hand.

The problem and the solutions extend beyond the Northeast. In 2013, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) introduced a Toll Enforcement Remedies (TER) program focused on education, communications—and, ultimately, payment. During an initial 90-day grace period, the agency collected millions of dollars in unpaid tolls and boosted enforcement awareness. Once the full program rolled out, it collected $47 million in past due tolls.

In Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s coverage of the toll violators story focused on a local trucking operator whose company’s tolls reached a total of $29,162—evidently without him ever seeing the bills. Michael Fabacher of Honey Brook, PA suddenly found himself “facing third-degree felony charges that carry a potential of seven years in jail and a fine of $15,000” for letting the charges pile up.

Doing the Right Thing

Once he realized what was at stake, Fabacher did the right thing and made arrangements to pay his tolls.

The Washington Post story relating to Maryland, documented the pushback from some legislators who think it’s unusual or cruel for tolling agencies to collect the tolls they’re owed. But both news stories played an important educational role for the communities the papers serve—they laid out why unpaid tolls are a serious problem, explained in detail each agency’s process for collecting overdue accounts, and emphasized their determination to continue doing so.

In that respect, the emphasis on tolling scofflaws helped MdTA and the Pennsylvania Turnpike maintain trust and uphold their accountability to the 99% of users who just do the right thing and pay their tolls.

Dig into the day-to-day details of highway funding and finance. Register today for IBTTA’s Summit on Finance & Policy, July 22-24, 2018 in Portland, OR.


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