BALTIMORE — Maryland lawmakers are proposing changes to the state's tolling system.
During a bill hearing on Thursday, legislators introduced five bills in response to the millions of backlogged toll transactions and mounting complaints from constituents about penalties.
Last week, the Maryland Transportation Authority Board approved a customer assistance plan that waives all civil penalties and allows drivers to space out payments through November 30, however, these legislators want permanent solutions.
Below are brief descriptions of the House bills discussed at Thursday's hearing and the MDTA's response.
HB0029: Vehicle Laws – Failure to Pay Video Toll – Penalties; sponsored by Delegate Al Carr
- Proposes repealing the Maryland Department of Transportation's ability to suspend vehicle registrations for failure to pay outstanding tolls and penalties.
- The MDTA said they use this power as an incentive to get people to pay past due bills. "For Maryland drivers, this could result in a disadvantage by prolonging the amount of time customers have to accumulate toll debt, leading to higher debts before cases are resolved," MDTA wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
HB0038: Maryland Transportation Authority - Video Tolls - Collection; sponsored by Delegate Anne Healey
- Allows the MDTA to recall debt from the Central Collections Unit (CCU), which imposes a 17% collection fee and can impacts driver's credit. The legislation also allows the MDTA to waive any portion of the debt if it's recalled.
- The MDTA had this power in the past and said it gave them greater flexibility to serve customers. "From mid-2013 through 2019, MDTA recalled or cancelled approximately 854,000 transactions from the CCU, totaling almost $46 million. Of this amount, $39.3 million of unpaid tolls and civil penalties were dismissed and $5.8 million were paid," MDTA wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
HB0175: Maryland Transportation Authority – Program for Payment of Unpaid Video Tolls; sponsored by Delegate Carol Krimm
- Establishes a two-year program that requires the MDTA to waive 70 percent of delinquent tolls and penalties and allow drivers to enroll in payment plans for the remaining balance.
- MDTA said this legislation would be extremely costly. "As drafted, House Bill 175 does not define the term “delinquent.” However, if 70% of the outstanding tolls and penalties are eligible to be waived under the program, toll and civil penalty debt owed between the fiscal years of 2014 to 2021 to the MDTA would be reduced by $420.3 million. House Bill 175 also excludes any provisions for reinstating the debt if the resident fails to comply with the requirements, potentially leading to the waived debt being lost regardless of resident compliance," MDTA wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
HB0335: Maryland Transportation Authority - E-ZPass - Disputes of Charges and Fees; sponsored by Delegate Linda Foley
- Extends the timeframe to dispute charges from 120 days to one year.
- MDTA said it'd cost $350,000 to purchase and install additional storage to retain account information for three years, however, transaction activity dating back to atleast 2016 is already available online. When asked how this account information differs from what they would need to store, an MDTA spokesperson wrote in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii: "No comment beyond what’s in the letters of information."
HB0582: Maryland Transportation Authority - Options for the Payment of Tolls and Civil Penalties; sponsored by Delegate Kevin Hornberger and 18 others
- Gives drivers a range of payment options including cash and payment apps, requires MDTA to recall certain debts from CCU, waive penalties, and offer installment plans under certain circumstances.
- MDTA said restoring cash collection would cost an estimated $335 million dollars. "In addition, due to the large number of electronic funds transfer apps and the large growth of the variety of such apps it would be difficult to implement the digital wallet provision of the bill to cover all available electronic fund transfer apps “to the greatest extent feasible," MDTA wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
In order for the bills to advance, they'd need a favorable report from the House Environment and Transportation Committee. Bills need to cross over to the other chamber by March 21 to move forward.