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This E-ZPass error can cost you thousands of dollars

Proper mount of E-ZPass transponder (Ari Ashe/WTOP)

WASHINGTON– With the 495 Express Lanes more than a year old, and the 95 Express Lanes due to open in early 2015, many confused drivers ask WTOP why their E-ZPass works at bridges, but not on the Express Lanes.

“I took a trip from Fairfax to the Wilmington, Delaware area. My E-ZPass worked at the McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore, at the toll after the Susquehanna Bridge, and at the toll at the Delaware state line. But not on the Express Lanes,” writes Ed Surma in an e-mail to WTOP Ticketbuster. “The representative said that my E-ZPass was not mounted correctly. Yes, I had it on the dash because I have two cars, but it worked everywhere else!”

Just a few days later, we received another similar e-mail.

“I have been seeing your stories about issues with the E-ZPass and the 495 Express Lanes,” writes Patricia Tamez. “My husband and I have received two tickets on the Express Lanes for failure to pay the toll but we have a fully operational toll tag. In both instances we issued a web dispute but both times we were told, ‘It appears that your transponder was not read during the trip in question as the transponder was not properly mounted to the windshield, which caused an invoice to be mailed to you.’ There is no basis for that reasoning other than their opinion. We haven’t had any issues with any other tolls except the Express Lanes.”

E-ZPass sends an instruction pamphlet with mounting instructions when you get the device, which are also posted online.

The instructions tell drivers to mount the device under the rear view mirror on the front windshield.

Many drivers leave it on the dashboard because they own multiple cars, although E- ZPass will send free velcro strips for multiple cars.

If the strips become worn, E-ZPass will send you new ones, or you can find them cheap online.

“When a driver goes through a toll facility, that E-ZPass will communicate with the gantry through radio waves to essentially register your trip and electronically deduct that trip from your account,” says Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk.

Transurban runs the 495 Express Lanes and will operate the 95 Express Lanes opening next year.

“The difference between the 495 Express Lanes and other toll facilities in the area is the speed at which you’re going those lanes. You’re going through the Express Lanes at highway speeds. You’re going 65 miles an hour. That means you need to follow the instructions and mount it near the rearview mirror because that’s the sweet spot to ensure the E-ZPass will be read,” says McGurk.

At the Dulles Toll Road, Bay Bridge or Harbor Tunnel, speeds are typically 5-20 mph, so there is still a good chance that the E-ZPass will be picked up on the dashboard. But even Maryland officials agree that mounting the E-ZPass on the rearview mirror is important.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it has come across similar cases on the Intercounty Connector (ICC), which connects Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. The speed limit on the ICC is 60 mph, so like Transurban, MDTA has found cases where an E-ZPass on the dashboard was not read.

Transurban charges administrative fees for any driver who uses the 495 Express Lane when an E-ZPass is not read. Within 5 days, the fee is $1.50. Transurban will then mail an unpaid toll invoice and charge $12.50 per missed toll. If the driver doesn’t pay within 30 days of that invoice, another one is sent out with a $25.00 per missed toll administrative fee. Eventually, the debt will be sent a collections company called Law Enforcement Systems. The collections fee is $100 per missed toll. After six months, you will get a summons to appear in Fairfax County District Court with civil penalties up to $1000 per missed toll.

McGurk says drivers with a properly mounted E-ZPass and funds in their E-ZPass account should contact Transurban immediately if there’s a problem to avoid the escalating fees.

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