Schimminger Announces Assembly, Senate Passage of Toll Payers’ Bill of Rights
KENMORE, NY — Assemblyman Robin Schimminger (D-C-I-Kenmore) today announced that legislation he is co-sponsoring (A.9805) to establish a toll payers’ bill of rights has been passed by both the Assembly and the Senate. If enacted into law upon gubernatorial approval, this would protect individuals, businesses and other entities if they are either mistakenly billed for going through a cashless highway toll or are charged a penalty fee for not responding to a billing notice they never received.
The Toll Payers Protection Act would require that the New York State Thruway Authority and other downstate bridge and tunnel authorities sufficiently notify motorists who do not have an EZ-Pass account that they are being charged for having gone through a cashless toll facility. The notice must be sent to the owner of the vehicle by first class mail and contain information on where and when the toll was incurred, warn that it must be paid within 30 days, and also outline the process for contesting the toll charge. If a response is not received within 30 days of the notice being mailed, a second payment due notice including a late fee not to exceed $5.00 would be sent. If there is no response to the second notice after 30 days, the authority charging the toll could then issue a notice of liability, and the recipient would have another 90 days to either pay the toll plus a violation fine of no more than $25.00 or contest the amount of the assessed toll.
The legislation would also require the Thruway and other tolling authorities to establish payment plans, limit the amount of penalties drivers can be assessed for unpaid tolls, place restrictions on the use of collection agencies to go after unpaid bills, and prohibit suspension of motor vehicle registrations as a penalty for drivers not fulfilling obligations to pay the toll charges.
“As it stands, motorists have been asked to acclimate themselves to the new cashless toll procedures for paying tolls to cross the Grand Island Bridges, but they have no way of ensuring they have been charged the correct amount in this highly automated process that is fairly new to New York State,” Schimminger said. “Drivers who have never used EZ-Pass and prefer paying cash are now asked to learn a confusing system on the fly and trust the bureaucracy to get it right.”
The proposed toll payers’ bill of rights improves the procedure that begins as motorists pass a cashless toll checkpoint. Since cashless tolls went into effect locally on March 30, motorists who do not have an EZ-Pass account are to receive notice by first class mail within 30-45 days of incurring such a toll charge. They have another 30 days to pay the assessed toll, with increasing fines up to $50.00 if they do not respond. Many legislators have expressed concerns with the long wait in which motorists could forget to pay or that notices could get lost in the mail, resulting in people being hit with sizeable late fees.
In addition to the possibility of bills being lost in the mail, motorists in New York City, where this system was first rolled out at downstate bridges and tunnels, have reported receiving excessive penalty fees, inconsistent with what they should have been charged or otherwise left unexplained. If they did not pay, in some instances unsuspecting motorists have been pulled over and had their cars seized, leaving them with no way of getting to work and little if any advance notice that this could occur.
“While many EZ-Pass users have found cashless tolls to be efficient, the bait-and-switch that has removed the option to pay tolls in cash has left drivers unfamiliar with the Thruway’s ‘tolls by mail’ procedures in the dark,” Schimminger added. “Since mailed toll notices could take several weeks to arrive, or they might not come at all, New Yorkers should have every right to expect a fair and clearly-defined process for paying cashless tolls and for contesting inaccurate charges. They certainly should not lose their valuable means of transportation if something goes wrong.”