For whom the toll bills - costs can outweigh revenue

Heidi Matesevac's $.77 toll bill
Heidi Matesevac's $.77 toll bill
Heidi Matesevac
Heidi Matesevac
Jerry Hester
Jerry Hester
Dave Burgland
Dave Burgland
David Talley
David Talley

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Electronic tolling took its toll on a lot of people in North Carolina.

"It's robbery, to me it's robbery," said Heidi Matesevac, an electronic toll payer. She didn't even know how to pay a $.77 toll bill. "It will cost me more to write the check and send it through the mail than to pay the toll."

Matesevac's check for $6.77, the toll amount plus processing fee, didn't make it in time, so the penalties kicked in.

"I'm at $55 now," said Matesevac. "They're just billing service charges on service charges. It doesn't make sense to me."

Stories like that poured in. A $1.50 check sent in to cover a $1.54 toll, four cents off by mistake, turned into $43 for one driver. Jerry Hester got a $56 bill for a $.77 toll on a car he doesn't own.

"They said if you don't pay the bill, they will add fines and fees," Hester said.

A big flaw was exposed in North Carolina's billing system. Toll bills were being sent for amounts less than the cost of sending the bill. So last month the North Carolina Turnpike Authority started mailing invoices on a 30 day billing cycle instead of 15 days, to reduce small invoices.

"It's lessons learned," said Dane Berglund, North Carolina Turnpike Authority Director. "It's not only an educational experience to the customers, but also for us."

There are hard lessons being learned all over the country when it comes to bill-by-mail tolling.

  • In Florida, six months after electronic billing began, almost 40% still owed.
  • In Maryland, the state is owed $6.7 million in unpaid tolls, which increased substantially after electronic tolling began.
  • In Texas, four years into electronic tolling now, the uncollected scofflaw tolls are at $294 million and 28% of people who don't pay tolls never got a bill.

According to the last traffic count, 122,000 vehicles per day are crossing the Kennedy Bridge. That's an average of 1.4 per second. Identifying, tracking down, billing, and getting the money from 1.4 drivers per second sounds like it's going to cost more than the money we're going to get.

"It may be in the best interest of the toll authority to spend more money to collect a toll, at least initially, than the toll is actually worth. We need to send a message that enforcement is gonna be strong," said David Talley, Kentucky Transportation Deputy Executive Director.

Considering the costs of staff, technology, postage, paper and ink, what does it actually cost to send out a toll bill?

  • North Carolina tells us it costs $.56 per bill.
  • Rhode Island says it costs about $.95 cents.
  • Florida tells us their surcharge is $2.50 because that's their cost per bill.
  • Texas tells us it's more like $6.00 to mail each bill, so that's their surcharge.

While it's yet to be decided, Talley doubts Kentucky and Indiana will add surcharges to cover the costs of billing for crossing the Ohio River. He said other states have learned that the more they charge for electronic tolling, the less people are willing to cooperate.

"So those authorities found over time that as they brought their fees and fines down into what their actual costs were, their compliance rates went up and people were more willing to pay them," Talley said.

Talley said some tollway systems that have been doing this for years are still willing to pursue tolls even if it doesn't make sense from a financial perspective to do so. It's a lot to talk about as they develop their toll policy over the next three years.

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