Debt Jubilee gives some temporary relief for toll scofflaws but in long-run EZ-Pass is only sane option for commuters
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Expensive fines added to the tolls of thousands of TZ Bridge Tolls-by-Mail drivers will vanish if drivers take advantage of an amnesty program offered through Feb. 26, 2018 by the New York State Thruway Authority. The website is now open at thruway.ny.gov/amnesty.
Customers who pay their original $5 toll fee will see accrued fines that often reached $50 – $100 per violation waived. The amnesty policy applies to open violations issued between April 24, 2016 through Jan. 31, 2018.
Around September and October 2017 a wave of New Yorkers complained that the state had unjustly fined them hundreds of dollars. Some claimed Tolls-by-Mail bills were never sent to their home at all, while others said they were out of town for a bit of time, came home and found hundreds of dollars in Tolls-by-Mail fines.
When some taxpayers sought to resolve the issues caused by Tolls-by-Mail, they told local media stations that they found no customer service available to answer their concerns. The Thruway Authority told the Rockland County Times there is customer service availabe for persons having issues with the Tolls-by-Mail system.
The backlash to the fines and general criticism of the Tolls-by-Mail system motivated the Thruway Authority and Governor Andrew Cuomo to roll out out the amnesty program currently available to everyone who received a Toll-by-Mail fine. The state’s longterm plan, however, is to reinforce its strict rules and harsh fines for toll scofflaws.
According to a press release issued by the New York Thruway Authority, after the February debt jubilee, “Customers who do not pay their tolls are subject to violation fees, registration suspensions, and other enforcement actions. For the [new TZ Bridge], if the first toll bill is not paid by the customer, a $5 late fee will be imposed on the second notice. If a second notice is also ignored, violation fees of $100 per toll will be imposed.”
Furthermore, “New York State law requires motorists to keep their address current with the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure bills are mailed to the proper owner. Drivers must update their address with the DMV within 10 days of moving.”
According to the state’s press release, “The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has enacted a regulation that allows suspension of the vehicle registration of motorists with three or more unpaid tolls, violation fees and other charges resulting from violations on different days…registration suspension of commercial vehicle owners with $200 or more in unpaid tolls and violation fees within a period of five years.”
The state promises that repeated notices will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle before suspension.
Senator David Carlucci said, “[Amnesty] is a positive step by the Thruway Authority however there is much more to be done to protect toll payers. I look forward to passing the Toll Payer Protection Act to have a more comprehensive approach to protecting toll payers and making the system more efficient.”
Acting Executive Director of the NY Thruway Mathew J. Driscoll said it’s a new year and drivers deserve a new slate. “Beginning this morning, Thruway customers have already taken advantage and are starting 2018 off with a clean slate. We encourage all of our customers with open violations to utilize this one-time program to pay off their outstanding tolls without penalty as we strive to improve the cashless tolling experience for everyone.”
The Toll-by-Mail concept is still a work in progress. To access your bills at www.tollsbymailny.com you must use an “account number” or “toll bill number” that is on your Toll-by-Mail bills. If you can’t find a bill with your 10 digit account number then call 1-844-826-8400 and deal with telephone operators.
Rockland County Times Publisher Dylan Skriloff questioned the logic behind Tolls-by-Mail.
“A $5 bill appears in the mail. Are you motivated to run and spend several minutes online to pay the $5 bill? If not, soon the $5 bill finds itself hiding under a pile of papers. Two months later it’s a $100 gold mine for the government.
“After years of paying tolls like every other normal citizen, count me among those with hundreds in fines simply because I lost track of $5 bills sent to me by Governor Cuomo.
“Bottom line is, sign up for E-Z Pass.”
State officials also encourage New Yorkers to sign up for EZ-Pass. It’s the easiest way to handle your tolls and you are unlikely to end up with hundreds of dollars in fines.
In the meantime, to use the amnesty website sign on to thruway.ny.gov/amnesty, entered your license plate number, pay the base toll fee for the trips and you will receive a message that your penalties have been forgiven. The Tolls-by-Mail website takes some time to register the information from the amnesty site.
These customers include those who were already referred to a collection agency or have had their registration suspended. Customers must pay their entire outstanding toll balance by Feb. 26 in order to receive amnesty on open violations.
The violation amnesty applies to:
Customers who paid their toll bill in full but still have unpaid violations or fees.
Customers currently on payment plans (they will not have to make additional payments).
Customers currently in registration suspension settlements or those who have been referred to the DMV for registration suspension.
Customers with E-ZPass violations or other violations unrelated to the New TZ Bridge are not eligible for the amnesty program. The state strongly encourages drivers to take advantage of the E-ZPass system and bypass Toll-by-Mail altogether. To sign up for an E-ZPass account , go to www.E-ZPassNY.com; at E-ZPass Customer Service Centers; or by calling the E-ZPass Toll
Parts of this report were taken from a New York State Thruway Press Release