Maryland lawmakers go after unpaid tolls -- Gazette.Net


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Maryland officials have renewed their push to revise the state’s toll-collection policy, a move they say is necessary to pursue millions of dollars in unpaid tolls.

The Maryland Transportation Authority is seeking stricter penalties for drivers who have toll citations mailed to them but don’t pay up, and a House subcommittee is expected to act on the proposal Tuesday.

These toll violators have cost the state nearly $7 million in uncollected revenue over the past five years, according to Harold Bartlett, the authority’s executive secretary. Overall, the state has collected $1.5 billion in tolls during that time, according to Bartlett.

The problem stems from the process of “video tolling” in E-ZPass lanes, which the state has allowed to reduce stop-and-go-traffic at toll plazas. Drivers without the E-ZPass transponders can use the electronic toll lanes, but have their license plates recorded so a bill — with a 50 percent premium — can be mailed to them.

Because the state wants to encourage, rather than penalize, video tolling, the authority hasn’t been issuing drivers the $50 citation called for under state law. Without a citation, the Motor Vehicle Administration can’t flag a violator’s registration for nonrenewal.

“The existing statute allows us to flag and suspend registrations, but we’re not following it, so we can’t [anymore],” Bartlett said.

Instead, the authority has been charging violators an administrative fee of $25 if their toll isn’t paid within 30 days, and then turning the matter over to a collection agency if that fee goes unpaid, Bartlett said.

The House measure would change the law to accommodate video tolling. Video toll drivers would receive a bill that must be paid within 30 days, after which they would incur a $50 civil citation. If the citation goes unpaid, the MVA can refuse or suspend the driver’s registration.

The subcommittee discussed the proposal last week, and some delegates, such as Herbert H. McMillan (R-Dist. 3) of Annapolis, expressed concern that the $50 citation would be seen as an increased penalty, because the authority is currently imposing a fee of just $25.

Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore said she was fine with the proposed amount, which matches current law.

“I hate to see people, you know, just beat the system,” Glenn said, adding that she didn’t believe the $25 would make a significant difference. “It’s wrong for them to go through the facility and expect not to be penalized.”

dleaderman@gazette.net