Friday, July 12, 2013

State to Impose Fines and Revoke Plates for Unpaid Tolls, Offers Limited Time Amnesty

Under a new law passed by the 2013 General Assembly, Maryland will begin imposing $50 fines and eventual suspensions of in-state registrations for motorists who fail to pay toll bills within 30 days of the toll notice mail date.

The new law went into effect on July 1.  The MDTA will provide an amnesty for motorists who pay ICC bills: Between now and early October when the law will be put fully into effect MdTA will waive the fees on tolls unpaid as of July 1.


Customers with toll debts in Maryland can pay in the following ways:
  • at ezpassmd.com
  • by check/money order payable to E-ZPass Maryland to PO Box 17600, Baltimore, MD 21297
  • by stopping in at an E-ZPass Maryland Stop-In Center
  • by calling 1-888-321-6824  E-ZPass Maryland Customer Service Center during regular business hours 7am - 6pm Mon-Fr
The state says it is owed $6.7million in unpaid tolls.  This number has substantially increased since the opening of the ICC, which has an All Electronic Tolling (AET) and does not allow cash payments.  Non-EZPass are billed using video tolling systems.  The MDTA is "studying the feasibility of removing toll plazas and using AET at its other toll facilities.", and thus not allowing cash payments at other locations.  The TollRoadNews.com website states that the I-95 toll express lanes north of the Baltimore harbor tunnels will be AET when they open next year.


The editor of this Maryland Drivers Alliance article made an accidental trip on the ICC without an EZPass on June 1, and decided to test how long it takes to receive a bill in the mail.  By July 12 (42 days later) no toll bill had been received in the mail.  

We then did what an average out of state non-ezpass driver, acting in good faith, might do... Google the words "Pay ICC Toll".  The first link which came up was : "www.iccproject.com/tolling-paying-the-toll.php".  The page contained no link labeled "Pay ICC Toll", or instructions stating how long it should take to receive a "notice of toll due". The MDTA website (http://www.mdta.maryland.gov/) also did not contain information on how long it takes to receive a "notice of toll due", though it does contain a phone number for "E-ZPass and Video Tolling Customer Service" far at the bottom of the screen.  The link for "ICC Home" also does not provide information on expected time to receive a bill.

If a motorist goes to the "www.ezpassmd.com" website link, and chooses "Notice of Toll Due", a page is presented allowing them to enter a plate #.  Entering a plate number however, does not allow you to pay the toll.  Instead, you are asked to "Please Enter Violation Number".

Calling the customer service line to get the toll notice number to pay the bill online did allow us to quickly the Notice Number (aka "Violation Number"), and then pay on this same website.  The cost was $2.15 to drive from Shady Grove Road to Georgia Avenue on a Saturday (about 2 miles).  The customer receives an email entitled "E-ZPass: Violation Payment Confirmation" after making payment for the *100% legal* trip.  (The MDTA has apparently been referring to ICC 'customers' as 'violators' since 2011).

We wrote to the MDTA and confirmed that the MDTA website does not notify non-EZPass drivers how long it should take to receive such notices.  The MDTA stated to us in an email that bills are expected to be mailed within 28 calendar days for in-state drivers.... but that bills could take from 28-80 days for out of state plates.  While the 30 day clock does not start until the mail date for the notice, an out of state motorist may wish to call the customer service line to determine whether a bill is due, since the time range for out of state registrations appears to be longer than many would expect.

The MDTA confirmed that there is no way to pay online without the toll notice number.  Motorists "should allow approximately  15-20 days for ICC trip construction before contacting the EZ-Pass Maryland Customer Service".

While the number of bill which get lost in the mail and are never returned, or which are delivered to wrong addresses and not forwarded, is unknowable for obvious reasons, the MDTA stated that in May 2013, 2,608 toll notices were returned for incorrect addresses.  Of these, a forwarding address was located for 828 notices which were then re-sent. 

The MDTA made clear that despite references to 'violations' on the payment page and confirmation emails:
"Driving the ICC without an E-ZPass is not a violation.  Video tolling is an alternative payment method to E-ZPass and allows drivers without an E-ZPass to travel the ICC. "   
An MDTA representative has stated that the website will be updated to remove the references to 'violations' for icc video tolling.

For a commuter who needs to drive the full length of the ICC every work day 50 weeks / year, the cost would be $4 per one way rush-hour trip totaling up to $2000 per year for an EZPass user (this would be lower for commuters who do not travel the full ICC distance or who do so at off-peak times).  Non-ezpass users are billed at a rate of 150%.... although "The MDTA encourages frequent users to sign up for E-ZPass."  The MDTA stated to us that no "traditional commuter plans" are currently available for frequent ICC customers.

Many motorists have found that EZPasses offered by other states have no monthly fees or are cheaper for occasional users.

The MDTA is definitely encouraging everyone to have an EZPass, as the options for not having one become less cost-effective and expedient.  If the state intends to ban cash payments at toll facilities, the Maryland Drivers Alliance hopes that the MDTA will at least consider how much burden is being shifted to ICC customers (not 'violators') who for whatever reason do not have EZPass to locate their toll bills in order to avoid late fees.  The MDTA should provide clear directions and guidance on the MDTA and ICC websites regarding video toll billing times, and ensure that bills are always provided in an expedited manner.  Perhaps state lawmakers should mandate that video tolling bills be mailed within 30 days for both in state and out-of-state drivers.  The MDTA should provide a low cost commuter plan for frequent ICC customers so that the road can be a more cost-effective solution for locals.  With the new gas taxes which just went into effect, commuters shouldn't also be faced with excessive toll fees on growing numbers of roads as well.