"I don’t want this on my credit report."
By GORDON DICKSON
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
If you drove on the all-electronic Texas 121 toll road north of Grapevine but haven’t gotten a bill in the mail, don’t assume everything is OK.
Norma Bartholomew, a Fort Worth resident and a research associate at Texas Christian University, drove the road in Denton and Collin counties one day in February 2007.
Like many other drivers, she doesn’t have a TollTag, so she expected the Texas Department of Transportation to photograph her license plate and mail her an invoice.
From what she had read, that’s how electronic toll roads work.
But the bill never came.
Then a few weeks ago, a collection agency called on behalf of the Transportation Department.
The caller accused her of ignoring 14 attempts to collect $1.90 in tolls during the past 15 months.
Bartholomew was told she owed the state $101.90, including $100 in administrative and late fees.
This month, she finally cleared up the matter.
The Transportation Department realized it had made a mistake and mailed the bills to the wrong address.
The department waived all but $2.90 — her original toll plus a $1 administrative fee.
But getting her name cleared and most of the fees waived took weeks of stressful calls to several department offices.
She also wrote to Fort Worth lawmakers Rep. Charlie Geren and Sen. Kim Brimer, each of whom called the department on her behalf.
Bartholomew also contacted the Star-Telegram.
"I have a feeling I may not be the only person this has happened to," she said. "I don’t want this on my credit report."
What went wrong
Department officials eventually figured out that they had been mailing her toll bills to an old address.
Bartholomew moved from one part of Fort Worth to another in June 2004.
She changed the address on her vehicle registration in April 2005, when her sticker expired, and since then she has renewed her registration annually by mail.
So, as far as she knew, the Transportation Department had her current address.
But it turns out that the department keeps more than one data field of addresses for registered car owners.
And, for whatever reason, Bartholomew’s address was never changed on the data field that the department uses for toll billing.
"This was a very rare occurrence," department spokesman Christopher Lippincott said. "We’ve been in contact with Ms. Bartholomew and . . . as of today she has a balance of zero. Certainly I know it was frustrating for Ms. Bartholomew. Like any business, we run into technical glitches. It’s certainly our hope that this was resolved to her satisfaction."
Bartholomew hasn’t checked any credit reports to see whether the incident was reported.
But Lippincott said that if such problems surface, the department will work with her to get them fixed.
What you can do
If you suspect you owe a toll but haven’t received a bill, call the Texas Tollways customer service line toll-free at 888-468-9824 and ask for your vehicle information.
If you’re billed for tolls you don’t believe you owe, don’t let the problem linger. A collection agency will eventually be assigned to the case, and any past-due tolls could count against your credit record. Try resolving the matter through the Texas Tollways customer service office. If that doesn’t work call your state representative or senator.
Car owners are responsible for tolls, even if the toll is accrued by someone else. However, if you get a bill for tolls on a car that was sold or stolen, you may download a toll violation defense form at www.gotxtag.com/violation.
Consider signing up for a TollTag, a windshield-mounted transponder that makes it possible to pay tolls automatically. TollTag accounts are usually backed by a credit card. The North Texas Tollway Authority administers the accounts and may be reached at www.ntta.org or toll-free at 877-991-0033.
The Transportation Department offers a TxTag, which is similar to a TollTag. For information visit www.txdot.gov or call toll-free 888-468-9824. TollTags and TxTags work on tolls roads in Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.
© 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: www.star-telegram.com
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