Friday, May 14, 2010

"More than $4,000 all owed to Tex-Tag for “administrative fees” on a bill that originally would have cost less than $200."

Toll Fees Headaches


MyFox Austin
Copyright 2010

The toll roads are some of the fastest ways to get around town and have become a pipeline for hundreds of thousands of commuters across Central Texas. But convenience comes at a cost.

7 On Your Side investigates why some drivers are calling the TxDOT late payment fees excessive.

“Every time I look at it, it is, I mean I've never seen anything like it,” D’Angelo Williams said.

Williams cannot believe his eyes. Take a look at the bill and you will see why he is upset.

Toll amounts: 183.90
Administrative fees 4,075 dollars.
Current balance 4258.90"

That is more than $4,000 all owed to Tex-Tag for “administrative fees” on a bill that originally would have cost less than $200.

“It was just one of those things like, what!? Is this April Fools?” asked Williams.

Williams called 7 On Your Side and told us how it all happened. Late last year he started taking his daughter to school in Austin from his home in Round Rock. He set up a Tex-Tag account, loaded it with $20, and over the next few months he went through more than 100 toll booths without stopping. He thought he was covered.

“My credit card is also on file and so I just figured they would take it off of there and give me a bill,” Williams said.

However, he was wrong. According to TxDOT, if you do not pay on time, each unpaid toll carries a hidden cost of $25. Williams claims the big trouble came from a clerical error.

“We found out the reason I wasn't getting any bills is that they had the wrong address on file,” Williams said. “WE haven't lived at that address in a really, really long time. So I can't figure that out either because our bank that our credit card is through has our address. We did a change of address years ago.”

While he says TxDOT has been sending bills to the wrong address, the collection agency they hired had no trouble finding him.

Mark Tomlinson at TxDOT said there is a good reason for the $25 fee.

“It's really meant to be an incentive for people to pay their tolls in a timely manner,” Tomlinson said. “For people who use our pay by mail system, those without a TxTag, we give them 75 days to pay that fee. We think that's more than reasonable.”

Say you go through a $0.50 toll booth without paying. If you do not pay online or in person after 75 days and two invoices, you can tack on a $5 administrative fee. If you still do not pay, 36 days later it gets raised to a $25 fee.

7 On Your Side asked TxDOT to discuss Williams’ case, but they declined our request because of customer confidentiality. About a week later, they dropped the charges.

We asked Williams to call TxDOT and verify that the charges had been dropped.

TXDOT: Thank you for calling TX tag, my name is Jennifer. How may I help you?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, Jennifer. Can I speak with a Tag Specialist?
TXDOT: You're in the right department, what can I do for you?
WILLIAMS: My name is D'Angelo Williams
TXDOT: It looks like May 7th when you called in and the payment was processed. It does look like that did bring you to full so any notices you are receiving right now you can disregard.

“We try to be as forgiving as we can,” Tomlison said. “And if people have misunderstood or there's been some problem with the billing process that we can verify, then our representatives have the authority to take all of those administrative fees off the account.”

Williams said that while he is happy it is now over, he wishes more people would complain in order to get TxDOT to change their late payment policy.

“Exposure is really the best thing you know,” Williams said. “I just want people to know that once you expose something like this, maybe we can get something done about having a very, very elevated administrative cost.”

After all, $4,000 is a lot of money, but it could still be worse.

“That's just my bill, my wife's bill is 7,000 dollars,” Williams said.

Williams said Tex-Tag cleared his wife’s account because of the same problem.

© 2010 My Fox Austin:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Lobbyists continue push for expansion of highly leveraged toll roads in Austin

Austin chamber urging CAMPO to cut restriction on toll revenue use


by Jacob Dirr
Austin Business Journal
Copyright 2010

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization 2035 Plan, which lays out strategy for regional transportation spending for the next 25 years, is catalyzing the business community over concerns about how and where toll road profits can be spent in Central Texas.

The 2035 plan, which is scheduled for a vote May 24, is important because items not included in it are excluded from any regional transportation projects that use billions of expected federal and state money.

As the plan stands now, money from toll roads left over after operations, maintenance and debt payment can only be used within one mile of the road or in ZIP codes where 10 percent or more of peak morning toll road drivers live.

The Austin Chamber of Commerce thinks that is bad business, however, and is launching a lobbying effort to delete the rule.

The goal is to be able to use the money as a financing tool to build projects such as a managed lane on MoPac Expressway, Chamber Vice President Beth Ann Ray said.

Such lanes, which are popular on the West Coast, charge drivers a fee based on current traffic congestion. They enable motorists to zoom by slower traffic, charging a higher fee during rush hour and a lower fee when traffic is low.

Both the chamber and the Alliance for Public Transit have expressed support for a managed lane on MoPac.

The chamber is also supporting the proposed Texas 45 Southwest toll road, which would connect MoPac and FM 1626. After years of planning, some CAMPO board members are thinking about deleting the road from the 2035 plan. Travis County Commissioners voted recently to push for its deletion from CAMPO’s plan.

It’s long been known that the region needs to improve mobility on its highways, but funds are short.

As sources of roadway construction funding continue to dwindle, it would be foolish to rule out sources like toll road revenue, said Patrick Flynn, president of Austin-based Flynn Construction. Flynn serves on the chamber’s Regional Infrastructure & Development Committee.

Flynn said the money would free another $50 million of loans by providing a means of debt repayment that can be used to build a managed lane on MoPac.

Even if the rule limiting where toll road revenue can be spent is kept in the 2035 plan, toll roads could still finance a managed lane on the highway.

A subcommittee of CAMPO board members voted on April 24 in favor of a finance plan system that includes the area toll roads and a future managed lane on MoPac.

The proposal is workable for both the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which manages the toll roads, and the Texas Department of Transportation, said Joe Cantalupo, CAMPO staff director.

© 2010 Austin Business Journals:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE