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Driver charged with $6,000 in tolls on 495 Express Lanes

Thursday - 3/13/2014, 6:45am  ET

MCLEAN, Va. -- A Fairfax County, Va. man who commutes on the 495 Express Lanes each day was sent a court summons and told he'd have to pay $6,000 in tolls, penalties and fees, WTOP Ticketbuster has learned.

Todd Metheny commutes from Springfield to McLean. He says the trip often took more than an hour on the Capital Beltway, but now takes less than 20 minutes on the 495 Express Lanes. But in January 2013, a problem with his E-ZPass account caused an overdraft in his account.

"I got a letter in the mail saying, 'We weren't able to charge you for the toll, shame on you. Take care of it immediately. Future violations will result in administrative penalties.' But by the time I got it, the future already happened," says Metheny.

He says he called Transurban in late January, in February and in April of 2013. Each time, he sent documents from his E-ZPass account to Transurban, the private company that operates the 495 Express Lanes in a public-private partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But in mid-April, Metheny received a collections letter from Transurban. He called Transurban again on April 24.

"When I got the collections letter, I realized that about $11 now turned into nearly $800 in fines. I came unglued. Pick a word and I probably used it," says Metheny.

Transurban agreed to research his case and call him back. But the agency never did. Metheny continued to use the 495 Express Lanes in 2013 and early 2014 without a problem. He says he didn't hear anything from Transurban and assumed the agency just took the money out of his E-ZPass account.

But two weeks ago, Metheny opened up his mailbox and found six summons to appear in Fairfax County District Court for the last week in March. Transurban was taking him to court because he went six months in collections without paying.

"My math was that I was going to pay $4,800. But I found out after speaking with a customer service representative that the total fees and penalties at court would be about $6,000. It shocked me beyond belief. That's when I was floored and besides myself. I didn't know what to do. I was scared," says Metheny.

Transurban offered him a settlement of $1,100 to avoid court, but he declined and asked to speak to a supervisor. He also contacted WTOP Ticketbuster.

"I could have just brushed it under the rug. I could have ignored their correspondence. I called, asked them what they needed, called again, gave them documents, told them how to reach me. But I heard nothing, nothing at all," he says.

Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk says Transurban dropped the ball. He denies that Metheny called before April 2013, but agrees that a customer service representative agreed to research his case and promised to call him back.

"We certainly regret the error. We've looked into our notes and it shows the supervisor agreed to follow up via email within 48 hours. Mr. Metheny requested to have someone call him, so we agreed to have someone call him. I'm not sure why the supervisor didn't make the call, but clearly we did not hold up our promise," says McGurk.

Last week, Transurban agreed to rescind the six court summons against Metheny and start over again from the point where the communication breakdown occurred.

"Recognizing that Mr. Metheny was awaiting a call back from our supervisor to close out his case - which is why he would not take action to pay the invoices, thus why the invoices continued to escalate - we will pull him out of the courts. We will also pull him from collections. In acknowledgment of our mistake in failing to follow up with a supervisor phone call to close out the issue with Mr. Metheny, we will pull him back to the fee he was facing on the second invoice," says McGurk.

Transurban called Metheny on Tuesday, apologized, and offered to settle with Metheny for $200. Metheny agreed to the deal and his case is closed.

"It was a very scary thought that I would be in court for something so convenient. All in all it has been an eye-opening experience and I am glad this has been put behind me," says Metheny.

He says he'll continue to use the 495 Express Lanes each day, but will be more careful to make sure his E-ZPass account is replenished and his credit card is updated and active.

"The vast majority of customers are using the 495 Express Lanes the right way with a properly mounted E-ZPass and enough funds in their account. But customers should be aware that those two things are necessary.

"Customers should also be aware that E-ZPass and the 495 Express Lanes are not the same thing. If you ever have a problem, you should call us at Transurban before it goes into collections," says McGurk.

If you think you're the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email WTOP your case - along with documentation - to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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