Chronic toll evaders in the Bay Area, who cost the region millions in revenue, could soon face the threat of having their cars seized by authorities for their repeated indiscretions.
Traffic scofflaws owe the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages seven regional bridges, a collective $14 million in unpaid tolls and fines. The most egregious offenders are particularly troublesome — 800 drivers in the region have an average of 66 violations, with each of those motorists racking up more than $5,000 in unpaid violations and fines.
Currently, the MTC charges $25 for a first-time toll violation, but that charge can be withdrawn if the offender signs up for a FasTrak transponder. A second violation carries a $70 fine, but after that the MTC can only put a hold on a driver’s registration until the fine is paid.
New legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Riverside, could change that.
His bill would allow law enforcement officers to impound the vehicles of chronic toll evaders, with the cars staying in hock until the drivers pony up for all their arrears. Emmerson’s bill defines a chronic toll evader as someone who owes $2,000 or more.
“This could generate a significant amount of money for the region,” MTC spokesman John Goodwin said, “which is why we are in support of the bill.”
Last July, the MTC approved a series of toll increases on its Bay Area bridges — which are all but the Golden Gate Bridge — to make up funding shortfalls for some of its seismic rehabilitation projects. It now costs $6 to cross the Bay Bridge during peak traffic times and $5 on the other six bridges. Before the toll increases, motorists could cross those spans for $4.
Emmerson’s legislation also would allow law enforcement officials to seize a car if the person’s registration is on hold with the Department of Motor Vehicles, which, under MTC policy, can happen after only two violations on Bay Area bridges.
However, Goodwin said the MTC would work with authorities to ensure that only the most habitual toll evaders have their cars seized.
Kayla Williams, spokesman for Emmerson’s office, said the state senator is hopeful the bill will pass. It was introduced at the committee level in January and will have its first hearing later this month. If it’s approved, the new law would go into effect Jan. 1.
Roughly 8 million cars cross the MTC’s seven bridges each month. Half those motorists use FasTrak to pay their toll.
The Golden Gate Bridge transit district, which is separate from the MTC, also supports Emmerson’s bill, although spokeswoman Mary Currie said fare evasion is not as large a problem on the span.
Bridge scofflaws a pricey problem
- $14 million: Backlog of unpaid tolls and violations on MTC’s seven bridges
- 800: Local drivers who have racked up more than $5,000 in fines and unpaid tolls
- 66: Average number of infractions among those drivers
- $2,000: Threshold for amount owed after which motorists could have their car seized
- 8 million: Monthly automobiles on MTC’s seven bridges
The seven bridges run by the MTC:
- Antioch Bridge
- Benicia-Martinez Bridge
- Carquinez Bridge
- Dumbarton Bridge
- Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
- San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
- San Mateo-Hayward Bridge