BALTIMORE — Legislators want to waive toll penalties and give drivers payment options after the Maryland Transportation Authority paused toll collections during the pandemic.
Drivers have reported receiving large monthly bills due to backlogged transactions and are unable to speak with an E-ZPass customer service call center agent.
“I get your wait time will be 135-140 minutes and I don’t have that much time to sit on the phone because with my husband’s stroke, I’m his only caretaker,” said Debra Perseghin, a driver who received an erroneous bill.
State senators have had similar experiences.
“When I got my E-ZPass bill there were five charges back-to-back-to-back, so my immediate thought was did somebody steal my credit card when I see five charges?” said Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City).
Senator McCray tried calling for assistance.
“The automated call told me, Mallory, it would be 90 minutes before I talked to some type of service person,” McCray told WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
McCray was able to get help sooner, and he’s helping his constituents, but he knows many others are still waiting.
“Mallory, that isn’t how the system is supposed to work,” McCray said. "The E-ZPass debacle is what I call it."
The influx of calls and backlogged transactions stem from a seven month pause in processing during the pandemic.
“Much like the deferment of rent, mortgage, and many other COVID financial relief programs at the height of the pandemic, the MDTA deferred billing for these items, responding to customers and businesses who had significant financial strains from the nationwide shutdowns and layoffs. These efforts were part of a statewide effort to help customers navigate the economic impact of the pandemic,” MDTA spokesman John Sales wrote in an email to Sofastaii.
WMAR-2 News has learned 14 million video and image tolls and 2 million E-ZPass transactions still need to be processed. And the call center is overwhelmed.
In November 2021, the call center received almost 180,000 calls. Currently, they’re receiving nearly 19,000 calls a day on average and have 84 agents answering phones. The call center has a total of 168 agents, however, as of January 6, 84 agents were either training or out on COVID associated leave.
Call wait times are at 1 hour 33 minutes.
WMAR-2 News asked Governor Larry Hogan about his stance on this issue.
“I know certain individuals have had a problem, we haven’t seen a widespread problem, but I’m going to address that with the new Transportation Secretary and the new Administrator of [Maryland] Transportation Authority and make sure we can get people the answers that they need,” Governor Hogan said during a news conference last Wednesday.
Senator McCray said Governor Hogan and the MDTA had time to do something about it. Meanwhile, drivers are struggling to keep up with the seemingly never-ending toll notices, some dating back to 2020.
“Do you think it was the right move by the state to pause processing all together for seven months?,” Sofastaii asked McCray.
“Not at all,” said McCray. “Folks that are in my community, this is adversely impacting them with a decision they had no choice in. They didn’t say, 'Stop my bill.' They got 5 bills, 4 bills, and now have to figure out how they’re going to pay them all at one time.”
He believes Senate Bill 59 is the solution.
“This bill makes sure they waive all fees accrued during a certain time, give the ability for MDTA to take partial payments, not just payments in full, and also, start looking into alternative methods of pay,” said McCray, the bill’s sponsor.
The bill would require MDTA, to the greatest extent feasible, to accept payments via an online payment system, including money transfer through a digital wallet payment platform or other mobile payment service.
It’d also give MDTA the authority to recall a delinquent account from the Central Collection Unit (CCU) if the delinquent account exceeds $300 in unpaid video tolls and penalties and the account holder agrees to pay their balance under an installment plan agreement.
“If a person says they want to pay and they say I can’t pay in full, set up a payment plan at MDTA not at CCU where it will affect your credit,” McCray said.
Installment payments would be 10 percent of the total amount due and would need to be paid monthly. If the account holder fails to honor the agreement, then the account can be referred to CCU for collection.
“We cannot continue to blame the pandemic in reference to why government services cannot run efficiently and effectively. Government has a responsibility to be accountable just as every other business that’s in the private sector,” said McCray. “You all have been one of the only news outlets that have been following this very close, consistent and clear about the challenges that are in front us.”
A hearing on Senate Bill 59 is scheduled for January 25 at 1:30 p.m.
There are several other bills relating to toll collection including repealing the practice of suspending vehicle registrations for drivers who owe video tolls and late fees, creating an amnesty program for past toll debt, and extending the time to dispute toll transactions from 180 days to 3 years.
E-ZPass holders also want to make sure they keep a positive account balance to get the full discount. Drivers with a negative balance could end up paying double at certain toll booths.
Drivers who have been unable to reach the E-ZPass call center can visit one of the customer service centers. Hours of operations have been extended. Below is a list of locations.
MDTA added that drivers can avoid the call center by signing up for E-ZPass. E-ZPass provides the lowest cost for tolls and makes it easier to maintain and pay accounts. MDTA has also made transponders free and removed fees.
Customer Service Centers at MDTA Facilities:
Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Thursdays 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Baltimore Harbor Tunnel
1200 Frankfurst Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21226
Bay Bridge – William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge
850 Revell Highway
Annapolis, MD 21409
Fort McHenry Tunnel
3990 Leland Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224
Governor Harry W. Nice/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge
9665 Orland Park Rd
Newburg MD 20664
John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway
1 Turnpike Dr.
Perryville, MD 21903
Customer Service Centers at Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) Locations:
E-ZPass customers visiting MVA locations are required to make an appointment and can do so by calling 410-537-8400. The appointment line is available Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon. Customer service centers are open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Thursdays 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Below is a list of customer service centers:
MVA Annapolis Office
160 Harry S Truman Pkwy
Annapolis, MD 21401
MVA Bel Air Office
501 West MacPhail Road
Bel Air, MD 21014
MVA Beltsville Office
11760 Baltimore Avenue,
Beltsville, MD 20705
MVA Gaithersburg Office
15 Metropolitan Grove Rd. (off Clopper Road)
Gaithersburg, MD 20878
MVA Glen Burnie Office
6601 Ritchie Highway, N.E.
Glen Burnie, MD 21062
MVA Waldorf Office
St. Charles Business Park
11 Industrial Park Drive
Waldorf, MD 20602