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Maryland proposal cracks down on uncollected tolls

Monday - 1/14/2013, 9:09am  ET

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Millions of dollars in unpaid tolls have gone uncollected in Maryland, but a new proposal being considered by the General Assembly aims to make it harder to dodge fees.

The proposal allows the Maryland Transportation Authority to go after those who don't pay tolls.

"It would mean at the end of 30 days, if you don't pay the toll, you will get a $50 citation," Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Secretary Harold M. Bartlett says. "You can pay the citation, go to court or do neither, and we can institute other measures like suspending the registration on your car."

Last year, The Washington Post reported nearly 650,000 vehicles owe about $6.7 million in unpaid tolls since 2007.

The problem is exacerbated with the Intercounty Connector (ICC), a toll road without toll plazas that only accepts E-ZPass. The ICC is the only all-electronic toll road in Maryland.

When someone on the ICC doesn't have an E-ZPass, the Maryland Transportation Authority mails the driver a video toll (a still image of the vehicle's license plate), which is 50 percent higher than the base rate.

If the driver doesn't pay the fine in 30 days, a second bill is sent with a $25 fee. Thirty days later, another bill is sent, and so on.

If the driver still refuses to pay, the bill is sent to the Maryland Central Collection Unit. However, the collection agency does not report toll violators to the credit-rating agencies.

"Unfortunately, that means some of the other tools that were available to us, like suspension of registration, isn't available to us currently," Bartlett says.

The Motor Vehicle Administration hasn't suspended a vehicle's registration for tolls since 2010.

"No amount of money that goes uncollected is acceptable," Bartlett says. "But what we're talking about is four-tenths of 1 percent in annual toll revenue."

Bartlett admits that as Maryland moves towards all-electronic tolling, like the ICC, the problem will get worse.

One of the biggest sources of unpaid tolls is rental cars. Nine rental car companies owe between $80,000 and $200,000 each, but the Transportation Authority is working with the individual companies to solve that problem.

"In many of these cases, the drivers aren't scofflaws," Bartlett says. "It's just more difficult to track down who was using the rental car when the toll was assessed. But I have been speaking directly to these rental car companies."

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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)