2011-05-20 / Top Stories

Schumer Says State Should Stop Hidden E-ZPass Fees

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the four toll agencies that operate E-ZPass in New York State to implement a text-message warning system to alert drivers when their E-ZPass balances run low and about any impending charges they may face. While drivers receive visual warnings about low balances or impeding charges when using low-speed tolls, drivers do not receive warnings on high-speed tolls, like those found on the George Washington Bridge, Henry Hudson Bridge, New York State Thruway or the Goethals, Outerbridge, and Bayonne Bridges, due to safety concerns.

As a result, drivers who are accustomed to regular warnings can be blindsided when they do not receive similar notifications on these lanes, and are then forced to pay up to $50 in “administrative fees” for each unpaid toll on top of the bridge or road toll. Today, Schumer called on these New York toll agencies to establish a textmessage warning system to help the over 2.1 million New York City area residents that use E-ZPass avoid unnecessary toll fees.

“With gas prices adding to commuting costs, the last thing New Yorkers need are unwarranted and avoidable fees every time they pay a toll,” said Schumer. “E-ZPass is supposed to save New Yorkers money, but by failing to notify drivers about impending charges when they drive through high-speed tolls, it’s leaving many of them in the red.

By alerting drivers about any problems via text message, we can make E-ZPass more convenient for hundreds of thousands of New York City E-ZPass users and save them hundreds of dollars in potential fees.”

Standard low-speed E-ZPass lanes use visual alerts to warn drivers about low account balances. Drivers receive a message, when passing through the gate, that reads “low balance” if the account is almost empty. If there is a technical problem with an E-ZPass device, or the account balance is insufficient to pay the toll, a visual message at the gate will read “unpaid” or “call customer service.” High-speed E-ZPass access points do not provide visual warnings, primarily because they may distract or confuse drivers travelling, in some places, up to 65 miles per hour. Only when customers receive a notice in the mail alerting them to accumulating fines are they made aware of the problem, and by that point they may have already run up hundreds of dollars in fees.

E-ZPass customers pay to replenish their accounts in several different ways. Many drivers pay their accounts by mailing in a check or money order and rely on visual notification to determine when their account is near empty. Drivers also link their E-ZPass to credit cards or debit cards and have their accounts automatically replenished. In the absence of visual notification, drivers can be assessed fees if there is a technical problem or their cards have been denied, only to find out after a notification is received in the mail and fees have already been assessed.

In New York State, E-ZPass is by a consortium that is composed of the New York State Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Trans- portation Authority (MTA), and the New York State Bridge Authority. The MTA and Port Authority, which operate all the bridges in New York City, including the George Washington, Henry Hudson, Goethals, Outerbridge, and Bayonne bridges, charge a $50 fine for each unpaid toll, while the New York Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge charge $25.

In the New York metropolitan region over 2.1 million drivers use E-ZPass, including 1,204,365 drivers in New York City, 558,936 drivers on Long Island, and 336,964 drivers in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties.

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