Maryland lawmakers call for cutting late fees on toll fines

A group of Maryland lawmakers say they’ve heard from drivers who complain about getting tagged with hundreds — sometimes even thousands — of dollars in late fees connected to Maryland’s video tolling system.

Maryland’s $50 late fees on video toll fines are too high, said Del. Al Carr, D-Montgomery County, earlier this week. He called them predatory, and he said he is working to pass House Bill 38 that would drop the fines to $5.

“The current policy of charging $50 per transaction late fees for video tolls and aggressive collection is harmful and counterproductive,” Carr said.

Other states, such as Massachusetts, have gone cashless, and cut their late fees to $1 after 30 days and another $1 after another 30 days. Other states that have gone cashless and cut their fines “have the best collection rates in the industry,” Carr said.

Carr added that his bill would not only reduce the late fees, but would also stop the practice of suspending tags over toll debt. He said the state would still be able to flag tags for payment.

“It’s very important that we pass the bill now because MDTA is aggressively rolling out cashless tolling statewide. They’ve already converted two bridges back in October, and the Bay Bridge is going to be converted by the summer,” Carr said.

Del. Mary Anne Lisanti, D-Harford County, has been fighting to get fines reduced for years.

“Enough is enough!” she said at a Friday news conference announcing H.B. 38. She suggested that drivers have been used “as a piggy bank” to raise revenues for the state.

Lisanti said that when the Hatem Bridge went cashless, more than 22,000 people found themselves subject to violations in the very first month. Lisanti said people in her district cross the bridge daily to run errands and commute to work.

She added that there are a number of reasons a driver can rack up video toll violations: If their credit card is compromised, there can be a delay in notification and, in the meantime, they can get hit with a cascade of fines, each at $50.

Lisanti said she has heard from constituents who owed as little as $15 or $20 in tolls, but accumulated “thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Del. Kevin Hornberger, R-Cecil County, said fines based on video tolling “is one of the No. 1 constituent issues that I get calls about in my office.”

He said “E-ZPass is supposed to make our lives easier,” but added that the fines amount to a “gotcha” for his constituents. He pointed out that over 50% of his constituents commute out of the county, and that means passing through a tolled facility.

Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director James Ports was asked about the issues with video tolling violations and their administration earlier in the week when tolls at the Bay Bridge were being removed as part of an ongoing project there.

Ports said the MDTA has agreed to cut fines to $25 for the first five violations. After that, the fine would remain $50.

Ports conceded that there have been some glitches with cashless tolling at the InterCounty Connector and the Hatem Bridge. But, he said, that’s a result of moving from one 15-year-old contract to a new agreement with another contractor.

“What you’re seeing is the difference between one software company and another software company, and trying to get them to talk to each other and print out things the same way,” he said. Ports called it an IT problem that the state is trying to solve.

When it comes to late fees, Ports said the $50 fine doesn’t kick in until 45 days, and then there’s another 15 days to pay. That means fines are being paid 60-days late.

“That’s a long time to pay your bill,” he said. “That’s much better than your mortgage company would allow you to do.”

And, Ports said, a $5 fine would not begin to cover the cost of the state’s contract.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported from Annapolis, Maryland. 

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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