Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Maryland Toll Revenues Surge

Toll Road Usage vs Revenues Collected
Toll revenues have increased close to 75% in the past 4 years, according to data released by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The Maryland Transportation Authority reported $276.6 million in toll revenues from in fiscal year 2009 from seven facilities and $308.5million in FY2010.  In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013 after toll increases were in place, revenue from the same facilities had increased to $411.5.  Budget forecasts predicted these facilities would produce $540.3million in FY2014, a 75% increase since 2010.

MDTA estimates that recent toll increases have reduced the number of transaction (ie toll road use) by 6.2%.  The higher rates more than made up for the lost revenues.
MDTA toll revenues by facility, 2014-2020 are projections
The MDTA's 6 year plan assume that toll rates at most facilities will remain the same through 2020. However it qualified that by stating "the timing of any toll increases on the ICC and I-95 ETL projects will depend primarily on the need to manage congestion on those facilities, and thus toll rates on those facilities could be adjusted during the six year period, should conditions warrant."

Revenue from the ICC was estimated to be $49.76million in FY14 and to increase to $84.64million by FY2020.

Despite these revenue increases, the MDTA figures assert they will only be breaking even.  Operating expenses are projected to increase 48%, from $368million in 2014 to $505million in 2020, even as expensive capital projects like the ICC come to a close.  The MDTA offered in explanation that "Growth in the operating budget includes assumptions about the opening of new toll facilities (the last segment of the Inter County Connector and the opening of the I-95 express Toll Lanes), increased maintenance costs for existing facilities, and increases in debt service as a result of recent bond issuances."

MDTA Slow To Provide Data to Public
In July, we asked the MDTA for their total revenues and revenues by facility for the fiscal years ending in June 2013 and June 2014.  This month, more than 70 days after we made that request, the MDTA finally responded that they had updated the 2013 data online, but that the information on revenues for the 2014 fiscal year which ended three months earlier would not be available until the end of October.

We asked MDTA to explain why actual revenues could not be reported more than a full quarter after the end of the fiscal year, and received no reply by the time of this report.

MDTA Couldn't Provide Data on Civil Penalties
We also asked the MDTA how much revenue was being collected from a newly imposed civil penalties on unpaid tolls (which in addition to deliberate toll running can include charges resulting from non-functioning EZ-Passes or incorrect credit card information in EZPass accounts).  The MDTA also reported that they could not yet provide that revenue total from the fiscal year which ended three months earlier.

Prior to the introduction of the higher civil penalties, the MDTA was instead imposing administrative fees, and had collected approximately $9.1million.

When introduced, the civil penalties were claimed to have been intended to combat "toll cheats" and "scofflaws".   However some motorists have begun filing complaints with websites such as ConsumerAffairs.com regarding the fees which they say were unjustified or actually due to errors on the part of MDTA.

Steph of Frederick, MD wrote on Aug. 26, 2014:
"I received a toll charge for $1.55 in July of 2014. The license plate info and the photo are not of any of my vehicles. Of course everyone said just pay it because it will be easier than dealing with the MTA. I called and spoke with "*****" who informed me to not pay it and it would be reviewed. I was to receive another notice in the mail. Well today I did and it is a bill for $51.55! I can contest this and go to court?? Really. I teach Family and Consumer Science. It is against every grain of my being to pay for a fine of which I am not responsible for...I have never even been to this toll area. The photo isn't of any vehicle I own. I wonder how many people are paying fines which they are not guilty of? How much money is being made? They haven't heard the last of me."
Lisa of Silver Spring wrote on June 9, 2014:
"Now I am being billed $52.15. Since their website could not find the toll violation, I now owe $52.15. This is ridiculous! I thought that since they could locate the transaction, they had found my account with VA and had charged my EZ Pass account for the $2.15. I certainly would have paid this, if the website would have allowed me to."
Atanaska of Laurel, MD wrote on March 5, 2014
"I never received the first notice of tolls due. By the time the second notice was mailed, E-Z Pass had already assessed $700 in civil penalties! That's for $65 in tolls on the Inter County Connector in Maryland. If they had assessed a reasonable late fee, I would have considered paying it just to avoid having to deal with EZ Pass. But $700 for $65 in tolls is not reasonable.
I called E-Z Pass and was told that my only option was to dispute the charges, which is what I did. Three weeks later, I still had not received a notice of court hearing in the mail and as you know failure to show up is considered to be "admission of fault". So after calling E-Z Pass to find out when the court hearing will be scheduled and being told that they don't have this information (but that the hearing will be "sometime in the Spring" - very helpful!). I finally decided to go in person and talk to someone at their Stop In Center."  .... 
"What really upset me is that she mentioned that I may have to go to three different courts on three different dates because the Inter County Connector runs through three different jurisdictions in Maryland. So depending on where the violations occurred, I may have to go to different district courts to dispute the $700 in additional fees. In other words, either cough up $700 or take three days off work to deal with a problem created by the fact that the E-Z Pass notification system doesn't work (I'm not the only person to not receive the first notification) and that they didn't have a procedure in place until 2/18/14 to deal with people not getting the first notice."...
MDTA stated to us last year that bills for ICC "Video Tolls" 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.  One Maryland Drivers Alliance member did not receive a bill within 42 days of using the ICC.  Thus video toll users (or users with an EZPass which was not read) could have a large window of time in which a bill might come, and they might not realize the first notice of toll due did not arrive.