Unpaid tolls to cost MTC $3.5M

FasTrak lane scofflaws are expected to drive away this fiscal year with $3.5 million in unpaid tolls and fines, according to estimates by a Bay Area transportation agency.

New policy decisions have helped the Metropolitan Transportation Commission reduce the $6.86 million they lost last fiscal year in unpaid toll revenue, but there are still tens of thousands of drivers each month who cruise through the FasTrak toll lane at seven Bay Area bridges without paying, much to the discouragement of the organization’s officials.

“We’re basically hoping drivers will be decent human beings,” said MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler. “If you drive on the bridge, pay the toll. If you don’t, then you’re stealing.”

In a key step to retrieving revenue, the MTC successfully pushed for state legislation implemented in May 2007 that places a hold on California residents who try to renew their driver’s license without paying back fines for illegal toll crossings. A driver is fined $25 plus the toll cost after the first infraction, and $70 plus the toll on ensuing infractions.

Additionally, since July 2006, the MTC has beefed up its monthly equipment maintenance budget from $80,000 to $400,000, which has been a crucial help in reducing unchecked crossings, Rentschler said.

Yet according to the most recent MTC study, 112,295 drivers illegally used the FasTrak lane in November 2007, but were not tracked down for billing because the vehicle lacked a clearly visible license plate.

An additional 49,013 drivers illegally used a FasTrak lane without getting caught because of equipment malfunctions at the tolls, although that number has significantly decreased since a monthly high of 196,567 in August of 2006.

Approximately 10 million automobiles pass through the MTC’s seven Bay Area bridges each month. The Golden Gate Bridge is not included because it is under its own jurisdiction.

Usually, toll cameras take a picture of an automobile’s license plate if its driver uses the FasTrak lane without a transponder, allowing MTC officials to bill the owner of the vehicle.

“We’ve done a good job in reducing the amount of unpaid FasTrak tolls over the last year,” Rentschler said. “But we still plan on missing out on $3.5 million this upcoming year, and that’s money we could surely use.”

Each bridge under the MTC’s jurisdiction charges a $4 toll. The revenue generated from the tolls pays for bridge repairs, seismic upgrades, and repaying bonds, Rentschler said.

wreisman@examiner.com  

Millions of dollars lost to toll violators each year on these bridges:

» Antioch

» Benicia-Martinez

» Carquinez

» Dumbarton

» Richmond-San Rafael

» San Francisco-Oakland Bay

» San Mateo-Hayward

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