January 15, 2008

California Toll Agency Wants Power to Seize Cars

The Newspaper
January 10, 2008

Toll road officials in San Francisco, California want the authority to seize any vehicle accused of “cheating” on toll payments. A Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) presentation yesterday called for new powers that would ensure that the agency collected the maximum amount of revenue each year. BATA will ask the state legislature to adopt legislation granting BATA the authority to locate and tow away any vehicle it says has not paid up. It also would like the authority to revoke the driver’s license of a vehicle owner accused of not paying a notice of violation. Despite the tough talk, however, the tolling agency grudgingly admits some violations are not actually the fault of the motorist.

“These violations mainly result from the toll lane equipment not reading the tag of a FasTrak customer,” BATA Deputy Executive Director Andrew B. Fremier wrote in a memo to committee members. “There are a number of reasons that the lane equipment may not read a tag of a FasTrak customer, including the tag reader in the lane becomes misaligned… or the toll tag malfunctions.”

In 2005, FasTrak system overcharged at least 600 motorists crossing the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland because ACS, the company in charge of the program, allowed its laser scanning devices to become dirty. In most cases, when the toll transponders fail, customers have their credit card on file billed based on a photographic scan of their vehicle’s license plate. This usually is not a problem unless the credit card expiration date arrives and the automatic billing function fails, or the scanner misreads the plate. When such problems occur, the tolling authority can impose fines of up to $93,000 as several Orange County FasTrak users learned.

BATA also is seeking legislation that will force automobile dealers to issue license plates to customers when they purchase a new vehicle. It also wants the authority to take money out of the paycheck of anyone accused of not paying a fine.

FasTrak is not unique in having difficulties with the accuracy of its toll system. Similar issues have been reported with toll roads throughout the country, including the imposition of substantial fines.

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