Friday, March 01, 2002

e-z come, e-z go?

I received a violation notice in the mail from the E-Z pass Regional Authority in late December from a trip that I had made to New Jersey during the Thanksgiving holiday. Coming in to Delaware across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I got into a poorly marked "e-z pass only" lane, and there was no one there to take the three dollars I was holding in my hand. I stopped my car at the booth, only to see cars in my rear-view lining up behind me, and at the sound of the first honk, I drove on.

The notice asked for the three dollars, plus another $25 dollars administrative fee. The temptation was to send them three dollars, and send a nasty letter to Governor Minner, the Wilmington News Journal, and the e-z pass authority. The letter required that the money be sent in within 15 days of the date of the notice. Fourteen days had already passed when I received their letter.

I held on to the letter for a couple of days, considering all possible options, and then figured that it wasn't worth arguing over, and facing the possibility of additional fines leveled against me from some faceless multi-state agency. The check went out in the mail.

I recently had to make a number of trips within Delaware using a car that had an e-z pass, and the convenience it brought was great. And then I heard from a friend how she had mistakenly driven through a wrong lane, an e-z pass lane, and couldn't back up to drive through the correct one. In a panic, she called the police on her cell phone immediately afterwards. They told her to keep on going, and that she would probably receive a notice in the mail, and should just pay it when it came. A few miles down the road, she saw a number of police cars ahead with their lights flashing, and thought that she was the subject of a roadblock. She said she was envisioning being arrested in front of her young children. The squad cars were for an accident ahead, and she passed without incident.

It seems like New Jersey is also experiencing some problems with E-Z pass.
Since E-ZPass was launched in November 1998, the state has taken in $13.3 million in fines but has spent $19.2 million to collect the money, she said. Officials originally projected that $190.7 million would be collected from 1999 through 2001.

So far, some 5.2 million toll violation notices have been sent out, but only 520,000 people, 10 percent of those cited, have responded by paying fines, Scaccetti said. "We have no enforcement mechanism," she said. "We do not have a collection agency involved."

One reason is the equipment used to detect that a vehicle with an E-ZPass electronic tag, known as a transponder, has gone through a toll plaza is faulty. About 10 percent of vehicles scanned are flagged as toll violators when, in fact, many are not, Scaccetti said.

She said the consortium is reluctant to engage a collection agency until equipment flaws are worked out.
I hope that they do get their equipment fixed, and the e-z pass program working correctly. But until they mark their lanes more clearly, and until there is a way set in place to appeal administrative fees imposed, and a responsible government body becomes attached to the program, I don't expect citizens of New Jersey care too much about paying the E-Z Pass Authority.