By Mark Hallum
Issues with cashless tolling have provoked a class-action lawsuit by a Westchester resident against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, claiming the state agency is notifying drivers of unpaid mail-in tolls after payment due dates and imposing “unfair and improper” penalties of $100 for each violation.
The plaintiff had racked up thousands in fines over a 10-month period without receiving notification of the charges or fines when scanning equipment failed to read his EZPass tag on multiple occasions, the complaint said.
“Defendants — who operate those systems and collect tolls from drivers — have used the cashless toll system to line their own pockets at the expense of drivers, primarily by collecting improper fees and penalties, in addition to collecting the tolls. Often the fees and penalties are multiples of the actual toll for the bridge, meaning that many drivers are being repeatedly charged more than $100 to cross a bridge or tunnel,” the complaint said. “Compounding the problem, defendants frequently impose these exorbitant charges without giving prior notice to drivers, and defendants often wait weeks before notifying driver about the charges, which leads to more charges.”
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, also claims the MTA and the two other defendants pursued collection by threatening their credit standing, suspension of driver’s licenses, revocation of their vehicle registrations or seizure of tax refunds if drivers did not pay up.
The other defendants named in the complaint are Transworld Systems, Inc., which was used to collect money from Toll-By-Mail drivers, and Conduent, Inc., a former Xerox affiliate which handles billing and money transfers for EZPass holders.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan could not comment on the suit, but said the launch of cashless tolling has been beneficial for drivers.
“Cashless tolling is providing huge benefits to our customers by saving 3.4 million hours in travel time, 1.6 million gallons of fuel and 15,400 tons of carbon emissions,” Donovan said. “We have not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment on pending litigation.”
The primary plaintiff in the complaint, Jason Farina of Westchester County, received a bill for nearly 60 crossings over the Throgs Neck Bridge between the Bronx and Bayside and the Whitestone Bridge, each with $100 attached to the $8.50 toll.
Farina had an EZPass, which his lawyer Joseph Santoli is arguing had not been ready because of toll equipment failing to read his transponder.
The suit follows less than a month after the Fix NYC panel proposal was released in January to implement congestion pricing for vehicles entering the central business district of Manhattan from 60th Street to South Ferry.
The proposal keeps East River bridges and tunnels free as they have been for over a century, but charges drivers a $11.52 EZPass toll for going into the central business district once in Manhattan.
“Trips to and from New Jersey can be less expensive than trips from New York City’s outer boroughs. Tolls vary widely, and they must be rationalized so costs are fair to all,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in January. “[As] a born-and-raised Queens boy, I have outer-borough blood in my veins, and it is my priority that we keep costs down for hardworking New Yorkers, and encourage use of mass transit. We must also find a way to reduce the costs for outer-borough bridges in any plan ultimately passed.”
The congestion pricing proposal was fielded by the state in order to create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and restore reliable service to the city’s ailing subway infrastructure.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall