More on NTTA driver’s $30,000 debt to the NTTA, this time from her lawyer
By Rodger Jones/Editorial Writer
Dallas Morning News
April 19, 2013
I have heard from a lawyer hired by a woman I’ve written about who was stressed out about a $30,000 debt to the NTTA. She admits to having been out there using the roads while still owing money. At the same time, her beef is figuring out how to deal with the agency and negotiating a settlement — as many do — about the add-on fees.
I asked the woman’s attorney, Thomas S. Howery, to boil his perspective down for me in an email, which follows. The questions he raises are timely, since the Legislature is in the process of passing bills that strengthens NTTA’s hand in dealing with scofflaws.
Here are my experiences helping my clients navigate the NTTA:
1) The collection law firms themselves are unsure as to who is handling what account. Sometimes it has taken weeks of communication between the different firms, the NTTA, and myself just to figure out who to work with.
2) The amount owed is often poorly explained or not explained at all. Every single client I’ve represented has had no idea how much they owed or why they owed anything at all. When the NTTA refers a client to an outside law firm, that firm should receive all of the account details from the NTTA. Those details should be provided by the NTTA or the collection law firm prior to “naming and shaming”. The account should be audited to find out why the account went delinquent prior to referral to an outside law firm.
3) The amount showing owed on my client’s NTTA accounts is not the amount sought by the collecting law firm. Given the general disarray regarding the NTTA’s attempt to seek civil law suits against their customers, I don’t blame the collecting law firms. I’m willing to bet they don’t know how the totals given to them were determined.
4) The advice given by the NTTA call center to my clients is often conflicting and wrong. Further, I’ve personally settled an account only to have my client told the next day that no settlement was offered.
5) I feel that the media has taken a one-sided approach to the issue and not disclosed that Amber Young’s (not my client) $179,593.43 probably did not result n her passing tolls 8,366 times but rather she ran tolls regularly and was charged $250-$275 a toll. (Note the 7-31-2012 list says “transactions” but doesn’t define what a “transaction” is). Ms. Young and my client’s names have been used to “shame” them into paying an ever changing amount of seemingly made up numbers.
6) The majority of my clients owe between $500-$1,500 in tolls. The majority of my clients admit that they owe this amount and are willing to pay some sort of penalty for non-payment. Sending out demand letters for $30,000 on $1,000.00 worth of unpaid tolls is nothing more than a shake down. It is my opinion that the mob would love to be in this business.
7) Some of my clients end up on the “list” due to NTTA error. For instance, one client has two toll accounts for some reason. We still aren’t sure why they chose to bill the old account vs. the new account (that was being paid monthly). One moved and forgot to update the NTTA of the their new address for the invoices. Others had a credit card expire and forgot to update the NTTA with a new one. Did the NTTA send a reminder letter, provide a reminder call, or send a reminder e-mail? According to my clients, no.
8) A few have been told by the collection law firms that they won’t be offered a settlement and need to pay the full amount alleged. After my clients pay me, the collection law firm seems immediately open to settlement and we are able to work out a settlement agreement. While I’m happy for paying clients, they shouldn’t need legal representation to pay a toll.
9) According to the NTTA’s final 2013 budget (page 38), they expected 19.8 million in 2010 and 19.7 million in 2011 from revenue from “Administrative and Late fees”. This suggests to me that they are using it as a revenue stream to fund operations rather than merely “seeking to be paid for unpaid tolls”. In 2013 they are budgeting an increase to 22 million.
I understand that everyone needs to pay their tolls if they use the toll roads. I understand the NTTA has had trouble collecting unpaid tolls in the past. What I can’t understand is the NTTA forcing their clients through a byzantine collections process that seems more interested in shaming people than helping people pay the tolls they owe. The NTTA should not be using delinquent tolls as a new revenue stream.