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The amount of uncollected tolls on New York's Henry Hudson Bridge increased an astounding 785 percent after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority eliminated cash toll lanes and began mailing bills to drivers without E-ZPass.
Figures provided by the MTA show that 1 in 3 motorists who receive a bill in the mail don't respond. From November 2012 through September 2013, those drivers owe the MTA $1.6 million, which the agency is still trying to collect.
State officials say that over the past five years, toll evaders statewide have failed to pay $150 million in tolls. But now, the state may dole out stiffer penalties...
Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a plan to suspend the registration of drivers who are persistent toll dodgers. Some lawmakers agree and are working to make the proposal part of the annual state spending plan.
According to the Journal News, with all-electronic systems considered the future of toll collection — the Tappan Zee Bridge is expected to make the switch next year to ease traffic during construction of the new bridge — agencies need more power to crack down on toll evaders or risk losing millions of dollars of revenue a year, leaders say.
"Toll revenues provide vital support for New York state's transportation systems," said Karen Rae, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's deputy secretary of transportation. "Over the past five years, toll evaders in New York have failed to pay a total of $150 million in tolls, and those who don't pay unfairly increase the burden on those who do."
Maintaining toll revenue on the Tappan Zee is especially important because that's how the state Thruway Authority plans to pay for the $3.9 billion bridge replacement project.
The Thruway currently collects 99.7 percent of its toll revenue statewide, but that could be "reduced significantly" if all-electronic tolling is introduced without giving agencies more enforcement power, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison told state lawmakers at a January budget hearing.
Under current law, toll agencies can only pursue long-standing
unpaid tolls through debt-collection companies. Cuomo and some lawmakers are hoping to change that.
Cuomo's proposal — which remains part of budget negotiations — would allow the MTA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Thruway Authority to work with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the vehicle registrations of persistent toll dodgers.
Motorists would face vehicle registration suspension if they fail to pay tolls in three separate instances, but only after they have been given chances to dispute the charges with the toll agency or appear before an "administrative tribunal." The proposal calls for a special administrative tribunal to be formed to handle cases of motorists who fail to respond to three toll notices. Motorists could also be charged with "theft of services," a misdemeanor. The legislation would also allow the DMV to form agreements with other states to suspend registrations for outstanding tolls in this area.
State Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, who introduced similar legislation last year, supports Cuomo's proposal. Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, is against it, arguing that "you ought to make it easy for people to pay tolls, not institute a punitive system after you made it more difficult."
He is opposed to the concept of all-electronic tolling collection in general, noting that the bills could be sent to the wrong address or drivers may not have a credit card or check to pay it.
At the Henry Hudson, vehicles with and without E-ZPass breeze through the toll plaza, where cameras take photos of license plates. If a vehicle does not have a transponder, the plate number is matched to a vehicle registration and address, even if it's out of state. Vehicle owners typically receive a bill in the mail in 30 days, with unpaid tolls handed over to a collections company after 90 days, the MTA said.