E-ZPass Users Getting Charged Hidden Fees Of Up To $50 Without Notice


ezpass-smallNY Senator Charles E. Schumer yesterday called on the four toll agencies that operate E-ZPass in New York State to implement a text-message warning system to alert drivers when their E-ZPass balances run low and about any impending charges they may face. While drivers receive visual warnings about low balances or impeding charges when using low-speed tolls, drivers do not receive warnings on high-speed tolls, like those found on the George Washington Bridge, Henry Hudson Bridge, New York State Thruway or the Goethals, Outerbridge, and Bayonne Bridges, due to safety concerns. As a result, drivers who are accustomed to regular warnings can be blindsided when they do not receive similar notifications on these lanes, and are then forced to pay up to $50 in “administrative fees” for each unpaid toll on top of the bridge or road toll.

Schumer called on these New York toll agencies to establish a text-message warning system to help the over 2.1 million New York City area residents that use E-ZPass avoid unnecessary toll fees.

“With gas prices adding to commuting costs, the last thing New Yorkers need are unwarranted and avoidable fees every time they pay a toll,” said Schumer. “E-ZPass is supposed to save New Yorkers money, but by failing to notify drivers about impending charges when they drive through high-speed tolls, it’s leaving many of them in the red. By alerting drivers about any problems via text message, we can make E-ZPass more convenient for hundreds of thousands of New York City E-ZPass users and save them hundreds of dollars in potential fees.”

Standard low-speed E-ZPass lanes use visual alerts to warn drivers about low account balances. Drivers receive a message, when passing through the gate, that reads “low balance” if the account is almost empty. If there is a technical problem with an E-ZPass device, or the account balance is insufficient to pay the toll, a visual message at the gate will read “unpaid” or “call customer service.” High-speed E-ZPass access points do not provide visual warnings, primarily because they may distract or confuse drivers travelling, in some places, up to 65 miles per hour. Only when customers receive a notice in the mail alerting them to accumulating fines are they made aware of the problem, and by that point they may have already run up hundreds of dollars in fees.

E-ZPass customers pay to replenish their accounts in several different ways. Many drivers pay their accounts by mailing in a check or money order and rely on visual notification to determine when their account is near empty. Drivers also link their E-ZPass to credit cards or debit cards and have their accounts automatically replenished. In the absence of visual notification, drivers can be assessed fees if there is a technical problem or their cards have been denied, only to find out after a notification is received in the mail and fees have already been assessed.

In New York State, E-ZPass is by a consortium that is composed of the New York State Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and the New York State Bridge Authority. The MTA and Port Authority, which operate all the bridges in New York City, including the George Washington, Henry Hudson, Goethals, Outerbridge, and Bayonne bridges, charge a $50 fine for each unpaid toll, while the New York Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge charge $25.

In the New York metropolitan region over 2.1 million drivers use E-ZPass, including 1,204,365 drivers in New York City, 558,936 drivers on Long Island, and 336,964 drivers in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties.

Schumer today called on the consortium of agencies that run E-ZPass to work together to create a text-message alert system to warn consumers about low balances or impending charges. Schumer noted that the notifications would not be sent to drivers when they pass through tolls themselves, but rather when their balance is running low, in order to prevent drivers from receiving text messages while they are on the road. Schumer said a text-message alert system would help drivers keep the savings the E-ZPass program is supposed to provide, instead of making residents give back those savings in the form of toll fees.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter can be found below.

April 28, 2011

Christopher Ward, Executive Director Port Authority
John L. Bruno, Chairman NY State Thruway Authority
Joseph Ruggiero, Executive Director New York State Bridge Authority
Jay H. Walder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer MTA

Dear Mr. Ward, Mr. Bruno, Mr. Ruggiero and Mr. Walder:

I write to express my concern regarding New York residents potentially being unduly penalized in their travels through high-speed tolls owned and operated by New York State Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and the New York State Bridge Authority. I have been made aware that E-ZPass customers traveling through high-speed toll sites throughout New York have been fined up to $50 due to a failure adequately inform customers as to the status of their account. I would urge all of the New York E-ZPass members to work together to deploy a text message notification system to inform customers of low balances or impending charges.

Millions of New Yorkers rely on the E-ZPass program for both work and leisure. Staten Island residents, for instance, depend on these ports of entry and equip their vehicles with E-ZPass technology to not only expedite their travel but also allow for more fluid access home. I have been made aware that high-speed toll sites in and around New York lack any means for customers to be informed as to whether their toll has been received from the E-ZPass reader. This can result in customers traveling through the toll believing that they have paid their fee only to discover weeks later they will be charged their toll, plus an additional fee of up to $50. This is unfair and unduly burdensome on travelers. I would urge your agencies to work together to develop a system to provide text message notifications to notify E-ZPass users of low balances, impending charges, or problems with their accounts.

Now, more than ever, it is important to make sure that commuters are not burdened with these unnecessary fees. I am confident that the New York State Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and the New York State Bridge Authority will act affirmatively to resolve this matter at all E-ZPass locations so that residents will no longer face these fees.

Thank you for your attenuation to this important matter. If you should have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington office at 202-224-6542.

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}