BALTIMORE, Md. — William Weinig lives in Prince William County, Virginia, and never travels into Maryland, but it didn’t stop the Maryland Transportation Authority from issuing him two video tolls in late 2014 for someone else’s vehicle.
“We’re kind of getting used to it at this point. We’ve been dealing with this for about three years now,” he says.
“Years ago we owned Maryland license plates HASI. It’s German for ‘rabbit.’ And we owned a Volkswagen Rabbit at the time. But we turned in those plates to Maryland about 10 years ago. This other car has H-A-S space I,” he adds.
Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman Buel Young confirms to WTOP that one of the plates was turned in to them in 2005. Weinig keeps the other to show friends. Also, Young confirmed that someone else owns plates HAS I.
In November, Weinig received the first of multiple bills for using the Intercounty Connector.
“I said ‘Oh no, not again.’ I wrote them letters, and then finally my wife [contacted WTOP Ticketbuster]. The car in all these photos are the same: a Lincoln, a limo. But you could have fit two of our Volkswagen Rabbits into this thing,” says Weinig.
MDTA officials agreed to re-assign the toll notice after the MVA informed them the plates belonged to two different people.
“The reason this happened is because Maryland E-ZPass has a business rule that eliminates all spaces. So when E-ZPass entered in HAS I, it eliminated the space and ran HASI, and that’s how this individual’s name came up,” says MDTA Assistant Director Deb Sharpless.
However, about a month later, Weinig received another unpaid ICC video toll for the same Lincoln limo. WTOP sat down with the MDTA a second time to clear up the confusion.
“After the first occurrence, we put this individual’s plate on a special watch list. It’s one of about 200 different plates that have some unique characteristic that requires us to have a person manually process the video toll. In the second case, a newer employee did not check the watch list and incorrectly processed the notice,” says Sharpless.
“One of our supervisors caught the error and fixed it, then attempted to stop the notice from being mailed out. We thought we caught it in time, but it turns out we missed it by one day,” she adds.
MDTA officials have largely automated the video tolling process. If a computer can read the license plate with 99.9 percent accuracy, the MDTA sends out the notice without a human being involved. If the license plate is not read with certainty, then the computer looks for a unique characteristic on the bumper, such as a sticker or dent, and matches it to a previous trip with the same bumper.
Sharpless says the MDTA sent out 5,500 notices to incorrect people for the Intercounty Connector out of a total of 4.8 million trips, which is less than half a percentage point.
Transurban has a lower error rate because humans are always involved in the process, but that costs more money and is one reason why motorists with unpaid tolls on the Express Lanes are charged administrative fees and civil penalties.
MDTA officials have contacted Weinig to apologize for the two errors and plan to re-emphasize the importance of the watch list to their employees. Weinig is pleased the problem has been solved and says he doesn’t hold any grudges.
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