After 11 months, unpaid tolls hit $32m

After 11 months, unpaid tolls hit $32m

Amount owed includes $14.3m in late fees

DRIVERS WITHOUT E-ZPASS transponders racked up $32 million in unpaid tolls and late fees during the first 11 months of all-electronic tolling on all toll roads in Massachusetts.

The $32 million consists of $16.6 million in actual tolls, $14.3 million in late fees, and $1.1 million in administrative fees accrued for the period from November 1, 2016, to September 22, 2017.

State transportation officials said the numbers are in line with their forecasts, but the money going uncollected is still substantial, enough, for example, to purchase 17 Red Line cars under the state’s latest procurement.

Jonathan Gulliver, the chief of the highway division at the Department of Transportation, said a portion of the $32 million will eventually be paid to the state. He estimated that over time 35 percent of unpaid tolls and fees will go uncollected, which would represent about 5 percent of all the toll revenue collected with the all-electronic system.

The state moved to all-electronic tolling on all toll roads on Oct. 28, 2016.  About 86 percent of drivers pay their tolls electronically using E-ZPass transponders, but the remaining 14 percent are tracked down via photographs taken of their license plates and then sent bills through the mail.

So-called pay-by-plate drivers pay more than those who use transponders. For example, drivers of cars with transponders pay $1.50 to use the Sumner and Callahan Tunnels each way, while their pay-by-plate counterparts pay $2.95 — almost 100 percent more.

Stephen Collins, the Department of Transportation’s director of tolling, said the pay-by-plate tolls were set higher to make up for the losses associated with drivers who don’t pay. “We projected what the leakage would be and we compensated for it when we set the pay-by-plate fees,” he said.

The pay-by-plate customers receive an invoice for their toll plus a 60-cent fee to cover the administrative cost of sending out the invoice. If no payment is received within 30 days, a second invoice is sent out with a $1 late fee tacked on. The same holds true if no payment is received over the next 30 days.

If still no payment is made after 90 days, the state sends the vehicle owner an invoice for the original toll, the late fees, a new $20 charge, and a warning that the driver’s license and registration will not be renewed unless the amount due is paid.

About half of the pay-by-plate late fees are imposed on out-of-state drivers, and roughly half of the $20 fees are imposed on out-of-state drivers. The state has reciprocity agreements with Maine and New Hampshire requiring each state to hold up license and registration renewals of their residents until all Massachusetts payments are made. Massachusetts is trying to negotiate reciprocity agreements with New York as well.

“The late fees aren’t really intended to be punitive,” says Gulliver, the head of the Department of Transportation’s highway division, when asked why the fees are so minimal. “They’re intended to cover the administrative costs that are associated with collecting the money.”

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All the invoices notify recipients that nonpayment could result in the nonrenewal of their license and registration, but consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky said the warnings should be in much bigger type. “If the DOT did a better job notifying slackers of this, they would be more likely to collect the money sooner,” said Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org.

There have been 767 appeals of the late fees filed with DOT since November 2016.  Of those, 603 were denied, 129 were successful, and 35 had an “other result or unique remedy.”

James Aloisi, the former state transportation secretary, said the chief advantage of the all-electronic tolling system is the faster ride for users of the Turnpike and reduced vehicle emissions. “But the state still needs to try and get the leakage down,” he said.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    How about comparing the collection rate to New Hampshire’s efforts? In that state driver are given seven days to log on to a website and pay the toll with no extra charges. Seems like that would be a more effective approach for Massachusetts to take instead of billing drivers.