May 25, 2017

EZ-PASS HELL PT. 5: American’s Angry As Hell! – $10,000 Fines For $14 In Missed tolls / $17,000 E-ZPass Fine For $36 In Unpaid Tolls “This Is Pure Insanity”


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$10,000 In Fines For $14 In Missed Tolls

Virginia woman loses license after defaulting on $10K in Express Lane tolls, fines
By Ari Ashe January 2, 2015

FAIRFAX, Va. — Recently, an Alexandria woman showed up at a Fairfax County court to face the consequence of not paying up while driving on the 495 Express Lanes.

Lisa Marie Comras took her case to court, but failed to appear, and thus a Fairfax County judge ruled against her. Her bill: $10,751.40.

Under Virginia regulation, defendants can pay off the fines over time. The size of the fine determines the time allowed. For Comras, the court allowed her to pay over four years at $224 per month.

“I haven’t paid because I can’t, and really because I don’t want to either. I am glad to pay the original tolls. If I don’t, that would be a different story. But it’s the fees,” says Comras.

She defaulted on the payments, so the Virginia DMV suspended her driver’s license and registration under Virginia code § 33.2-503.

“In the event such person fails to pay the required penalties, fees, and costs, the court shall notify the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, who shall suspend all of the registration certificates and license plates issued for any motor vehicles registered solely in the name of such person,” reads the law.

Comras was shocked when she got the notice.

“It’s bad enough that the court is allowing this to happen, assessing all this money. But they’re piling on, taking away your license over $14. I didn’t do a DUI, an officer didn’t pull me over.”

But unless lawmakers change the statute, any court is permitted to ask the Virginia DMV to suspend the registration, license and plates of any Virginia driver with unpaid tolls.

Defendants can get their registration, plates and license restored after receiving this notice if they go back to the courthouse. Clerks can work with the defendant to establish a new deal with a lender whereby the person can negotiate less money per month over a longer period of time. However, if the person makes a new deal and misses any payment, their license and registration is suspended again until the full bill is paid up.

Comras did not qualify for the First Time Forgiveness Program because her case was heard before the program was put into place.

“This customer’s case highlights the importance of ensuring that your E-ZPass account is funded. The vast majority of Express Lanes customers are using the road properly by keeping their account funded and their E-ZPass mounted –- only 4 percent of trips on 495 Express Lanes are unpaid and the majority of those trips are resolved prior to entering collections,” says Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk.

With the 95 Express Lanes opening, Transurban will forgive fees during the learning curve to the new rules. Also, Transurban no longer pursues drivers for more than $2,200 under the new forgiveness program.

However, if someone uses the forgiveness program and then takes more trips on the Express Lanes without paying, Transurban could can take them to court. If they lose, they could end up in a situation similar to Comras’.

In Maryland, those who don’t pay the toll for the Intercounty Connector get a $50 civil penalty for each trip and are taken to court by the Maryland Transportation Authority. If the driver has more than $1,000 in unpaid fines, Maryland will suspend the registration as well.

Neither state is permitted to take action against the license or registration of someone living in another state.

http://wtop.com/traffic/2015/01/virginia-woman-loses-license-defaulting-10k-express-lane-tolls-fines/

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Man gets $17,000 E-ZPass fine for $36 in unpaid express lane tolls

DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Posted: Oct 13, 2014 9:14 PM EDT Updated: Oct 13, 2014 11:01 PM EDT
By Emily Miller, FOX 5 Chief Investigative Reporter

WASHINGTON –

Every weekday, Joe Mischler commutes from Maryland to Virginia on the beltway and uses the 495 Express Lanes. He pays the tolls with his E-ZPass account, which is deducted automatically from his credit card.

So Joe was stunned when he got a staggering $17,000 fine for $36 in unpaid tolls. He tried to resolve the problem directly with Transurban, which manages the lanes for Virginia. But Joe could not get any resolution from the company, and facing a looming court date, he came to us for help.

“I’m frustrated beyond words,” Joe said.

Standing outside Joe’s office building in Alexandria, I asked him what frustrated him the most.

“The thing that frustrates me the most is they don’t care,” Joe said, referring to Transurban. “They aren’t trying to resolve this. They are trying to get $17,000 for [$36] in tolls they didn’t collect.”

All of Joe’s whopping $17,000 fines come from a month-long period in spring 2013 when his E-ZPass transponder wasn’t being read properly by the metal things — called gantries – that go over the express lanes. (Unlike toll roads, there are no booths for these lanes, so the driver has no alert if there is a problem with the transponder.)

Joe’s daily commute his home in Gaithersburg to his office in Alexandria costs $2 to $3 per trip. Without the fast lanes, it can take him two hours each way because of traffic.

“They know I’m not a guy trying to scam the system,” said Joe, who gave us his E-ZPass transactions which showed it always had a balance.

But in the transactions last spring, you can see that the E-ZPass signal only got picked up at one spot — that’s why it shows his whole trip as entering and exiting at the same time.

Some of his commutes didn’t get caught at all. This can happen because of many things — from a tinted windshield to the position of the car in the lane. So when Joe’s E-ZPass didn’t get picked up at the gantries, it looked like he was trying to drive for free.

He didn’t know this because the driver doesn’t get an alert when the technology fails. But the camera snapped his license plate to enforce paying the tolls.

Joe got a letter from Transurban about the missed tolls. He mailed in his E-ZPass statement showing it had a balance. He didn’t hear anything back for a year. He thought it was clear. Then he got served with 17 summonses to Fairfax County Court to pay over $17,000 in fines for the missing $36 in tolls.

“When I received the 17 summons, I laughed. I’m like, clearly this is a mistake. I’m going to have to go to court and I’ll show them my EZ pass statement, and I’m good,” explained Joe. “I went in very confident, like we’re going to settle this. And that’s when [the Transurban rep] hit me with, ‘We’ll settle for $6,000.’ That’s when I got nervous.”

Many people don’t realize that enforcement of the tolls in the express lanes is not done by the Commonwealth of Virginia nor E-ZPass. It’s done by Transurban, a publicly-traded Australian company that operates and manages the lanes. However, the maximum fines are set by state law.

Normally, Transurban captures the E-ZPass transponder when the car goes through the gantry. Then Transurban bills the toll to E-ZPass, which is a separate company.

If the E-ZPass account is not funded or the sensor doesn’t see an E-ZPass, the fines begin. Transurban sets the fine for the first five days at $1.50. After a month, the first invoice is for $12.50 per trip (on top of the tolls), and then it goes up to $25.

After two months, the fine jumps to $100, and it goes to a collections agency. After six months, it goes to civil court. That’s when the fines hit $1,000 — per trip.

Joe said he never heard from a collections agency. And his credit is perfect.

But Transurban’s spokesman Mike McGurk says that Joe could have paid the smaller fines before it went to court.

“We want to make sure customers understand that if you let it remain unpaid, it will escalate,” said McGurk.

I asked him if Transurban reasonably expected a man pay $17,000 on $36 in tolls.

McGurk insisted that Joe could have avoided the larger fine by paying a smaller fine at the first notice.

“It was that $12.50 at that first trip. By the time we had received that information from him, it had since escalated again,” said the Transurban spokesman.

Joe could not understand why Transurban was fining him at all.

“I responded to them. I gave them my E-ZPass statement. I gave them my transponder number. They have my license plate,” said Joe. “Yet they chose to do nothing but continue to come after me and take me to court.”

Joe didn’t realize that proving he had an E-ZPass — and that it was fully loaded — wasn’t enough to avoid fines. Although Transurban says it works with customers on a case-by-case basis and sometimes fines are waived.

Transurban says the fines collected are not for profit — they’re all used to buy more gantries with scanners and cameras and for staff to track the unpaid tolls.

McGurk said that, “All of the money that we recover through these enforcement efforts actually go back to fund the same enforcement efforts.”

Joe responded to Transurban by saying that, “They can spin it any way they want. But at the end of the day, they are trying to generate more fines.”

At the end of all this frustration for Joe, we have some good news.

Transurban contacted me after the interview to say it is pulling Joe’s cases out of court. Pierce Coffee, the director of marketing for Transurban, told me that they made this decision after looking deeper into Joe’s case.

She then sent me this statement: “This situation was rare in the fact that this traveler is a frequent customer who unknowingly made a mistake related to his E-ZPass account. We also understand that he did try to take some steps to correct the problem. Given the unique situation, we made a good faith exception to our normal process.”

So I told Joe to call Transurban and check on his account. He was told that he could close the case for $264 in fines. Joe paid this amount just to put it all behind him. However, Joe told me that he didn’t think he should have to pay the fines at all. And he hopes other drivers aren’t getting caught up in this same mess.

Transurban said the most important things people can do to avoid the same situation is to make sure the E-ZPass transponder is correctly mounted on the car, link the account to a license plate and make sure the E-ZPass account is fully funded.

SOURCE: http://www.myfoxdc.com/story/26776372/man-gets-17000-e-zpass-fine-for-36-in-unpaid-express-lane-tolls

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“How many of your fellow American’s would stand for this if they had a TRUE VOICE and a TRUE VOTE that actually counted?”

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2 E-Z Pass Express Lane fine cases dismissed by judge

Posted: Jan 14, 2015 5:33 PM EST Updated: Jan 14, 2015 7:58 PM EST
By Emily Miller, FOX 5 Chief Investigative Reporter

WASHINGTON – Drivers who have gotten whacked with enormous fines for missing a few tolls on the 495 Express Lanes had a win in court on Wednesday, FOX 5 has learned. Attorney David Bernhard got the judge to dismiss all his cases today in Fairfax County Court.

FOX 5 chief investigator Emily Miller broke this EZ pass fine story last year and has been relentless in her follow-ups.

Bernhard argued that paralegal Alexis Branch is neither a lawyer nor works for Transurban, the company that manages the lanes and is the plaintiff in these civil cases.

Branch is a contractor through a company called Faneuil. A corporation has to be present in the court or represented by a lawyer under Virginia law.

Judge Thomas Gallahue agreed with the argument and ruled that Transurban was not present in the courtroom. The judge dismissed the 62 summonses for the two defendants.

The significance of this ruling is that it calls into question all the pre-court settlements with Branch at the courthouse.

I exclusively profiled the lawyer Bernhard last week. He has developed a unique legal strategy to defend drivers facing fines of thousands of dollars for accidentally missing tolls on the lanes. Most of his cases challenging the signature on the summonses, statute of limitation and constitutionality will be heard by a judge in April.

Transurban’s spokesperson Pierce Coffee told me late Wednesday that the company will address the matter in court.

Previous E-ZPass Express Lane Fine Stories by Emily Miller:

Defense attorney unveils strategy to challenge huge E-ZPass Express Lane fines

E-ZPass Express Lane Drivers who paid thousands in fines want refund

FOX 5 investigation forces changes to massive E-ZPass fines on 495 Express Lanes

Drivers face thousands of dollars in fines from E-ZPass 495 Express Lanes

Man gets $17,000 E-ZPass fine for $36 in unpaid express lane tolls

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