Toll cheats could face registration, license suspensions
TRENTON -- Port Authority officials will ask New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission to suspend the registration privilege of chronic toll violators, similar to what is now done in New York State, as the agency moves to cashless toll collection.
Officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reached an agreement with New York State's Department of Motor Vehicles in 2016 to go after chronic toll violators. It joins other toll agencies across the nation which are seeking or have similar agreements to go after out-of-state toll offenders.
The authority is replacing old toll equipment at its bridges and tunnels to possibly go cashless, with a future date for testing to start. Under cashless collection, the license plate of vehicles without an E-Z Pass is photographed and the registered owner is sent a bill for the toll.
In 2016, the Port Authority made 297 requests to suspend New York vehicle registrations of repeat toll violators who accumulate five separate toll violations over an 18-month period, said Neal Buccino, an authority spokesman. It recovered $112,000 in tolls and fees owed, he said.
"The Port Authority is looking into steps that may be necessary to allow for such an initiative in New Jersey," Buccino told NJ.com.
Now, the only agreement that the MVC has is with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to suspend the registration ability of drivers with repeat toll violations.
That might change, as more toll agencies seek agreements to suspend either the license or registration of chronic toll violators who live out-of-state.
The motivation behind such agreements is lost money, especially as toll authorities began to implement all-electronic toll collection, and eliminate cash.
"Toll evaders cost law-abiding motorists and the Port Authority approximately $31 million in unpaid tolls in 2015," Buccino said.
Of that amount, approximately $13 million in lost toll revenue is owed by New Jersey violators, about $11 million from New York drivers and an estimated $7 million by scofflaws from other states, he said.
Toll authorities have brought civil suits against chronic offenders who owe large amount of unpaid tolls and fees. Port Authority police also have made highly publicized arrests of drivers caught at toll booths who owe thousands of dollars in back tolls and fines.
A Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission audit said it lost a total of $37 million to toll violators, of which $15.6 million was owed by out-of-state drivers. New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials said they have not conducted a similar audit.
That revenue loss concern has prompted N.J. Turnpike Authority officials not to pursue cashless toll collection on that highway and the Garden State Parkway, which it operates. About half of the Turnpike traffic and between 20 and 25 percent of the Parkway traffic came from states other than New Jersey last year, said Thomas Feeney, spokesman for the Turnpike Authority.
"When agencies talk about losing revenue with the switch to all-electronic tolling, they worry that a portion of those drivers will be less likely to pay a bill after the fact, than they are to pay cash when they're actually going through the lane," Feeney said in an earlier interview.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe signed legislation in November to crack down on out-of-state toll violators. That law allows that the Turnpike Commission to negotiate agreements with neighboring states.
More states are investigating toll enforcement agreements, said officials at the Alliance for Toll Interoperability, a group that promotes toll industry standardization.
"Interstate agreements are on the rise, and the majority of action is currently occurring in the Northeast region of the United States," said Sharon Adair, Alliance Vice President.
An agreement was struck with two other New England states when the Massachusetts Turnpike went cashless last year. New York's MTA will implement all-electronic tolls this year. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo announced a cashless tolling system would start in 2017 on various Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels.
The agreement between Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire allows a state to apply their laws to a toll violator by putting a hold on their ability to renew a driver's license or registration until they pay back tolls and fines.
The result is a 70 percent overall collection rate among those states and more than $100,000 directly collected in tolls, fees and penalties, a 2016 American Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators report said.