Electronic toll collection is a massive money-making scheme where the punishment doesn't fit the 'crime.' It impedes our freedom to travel and ruins people financially - just to get to work and usually for innocent mistakes.
Drivers rack up tickets on toll roads
The switch to a cash-free payment collection system is turning into a potential moneymaker.
By Morgan Cook
Orange County Register
June 27, 2014
The switch to a cash-free payment collection system is turning into a potential moneymaker for county toll roads, in the form of a jump in the number of penalties from toll violations.
The new system also has sparked confusion for drivers and a customer service crisis at the Transportation Corridor Agencies, with tens of thousands of people calling help lines only to face long waits, and often no answer at all, according to documents presented at June 12 board meetings of TCA directors.
One statistic in the new, cash-free world could lead to a revenue boost for the financially-challenged toll roads.
More than 15,000 violations a day – twice the previous average – were logged in the first two weeks after the May 14 switch from manned toll booths to automatic license plate readers. More than 7 percent of all drivers who should have paid a toll did not, according to TCA statistics.
Though toll officials temporarily are waiving the $57.50 penalty for first-time violators if they pay their toll within 30 days of receiving their citation, TCA statistics show the penalties could have boosted revenue by $460,000 a day.
“If you look at the violation number, it looks like it doubled, and it did,” Jim Gallagher, chief toll operations officer for TCA, said during the June 12 board meeting.
“That is a result of people not getting the word, or being confused by the signs, or not being able to understand the signing and how the program works.”
That confusion has led to a flood of calls to the TCA’s customer support center. Some 46,000 callers were unable to get through to a representative in the week starting June 4, compared with an average of 2,000 callers per week in May 2013, according to TCA statistics.
“One gentleman (told TCA he) waited 90 minutes only to be cut off as soon as he was being connected,” Jeff Bott, a senior public affairs representative for TCA, wrote in a June 9 email to colleagues.
Frustrated drivers have taken to Facebook, venting in posts on The Toll Roads’ page.
“This is insane!” Mike Quijano wrote June 4 on the roads’ Facebook page. “I drive the 73 frequently. I saw the signs but at freeway speeds who could read them and understand that you have to go online to pay? To save 10 minutes drive time you've gotta screw around online for 10 minutes more and give up your credit card? And fines are $150? Unbelievable!!”
Officials at other toll road agencies that made the switch from cash to electronic payment told TCA officials to expect problems after the end of cash tolling because many people will remain unaware of the change until it actually happens, said Lisa Telles, a TCA spokeswoman.
“No matter how much you tell people in advance, they start paying attention when it happens,” Telles said of the advice other toll agencies gave TCA. “Do all the press you can, and then be ready to make adjustments.
“So that’s what we did.”
Adjustments underway at TCA include forgiveness for first-time violators who failed to pay tolls online within 48 hours.
A flier explaining how violation forgiveness works will be mailed out with all first-time violation notices.
New, more instructive, signs also are in the works, according to TCA documents.
Signs that now read “ONE-TIME-TOLL thetollroads.com WITHIN 48 HOURS,” will be adjusted to include the phrase “TO AVOID VIOLATION.”
The TCA also is beefing up its customer service staff, with new representatives starting last week, Telles said. The agency added 14 representatives before the transition to cash-free tolling, and it plans to add another 10.
Telles said TCA will continue gathering customer feedback to guide efforts to reduce driver confusion about cash-free tolling.
“We’re definitely listening and adjusting,” Telles said.