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Pay now or pay thousands in late fees: Drivers sent backlogged E-ZPass tolls facing tough financial decisions

MDTA opposed to waiving late fees for delayed tolls
Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 08, 2022

BALTIMORE — Maryland drivers are receiving stacks of toll notices and bills for hundreds of dollars. And if they don’t pay in full and on time, they’ll be charged an additional $25 per toll, which for some is thousands of dollars.

“I was a little surprised when we opened up [the box] to find 203 citations from the E-ZPass division,” said Kathy Hood, operations manager at Bob Davidson Ford Lincoln.

“It’s loud, there’s a lot in here,” said Grace Kirby, hitting her pile of toll violations on a table.

She received 129 toll notices in one envelope. The violations date back to 2020 when the Maryland Transportation Authority paused processing toll transactions for seven months. The agency is now mailing out backlogged tolls with a warning for drivers who don’t pay within the allotted timeframe.

“The total amount is $1,209.36, which we have until February 14th to pay otherwise the fine goes up to $6,284.36,” Hood said.

“If I don’t pay by the 18th, which is less than 30 days of notice, it’s $4,000 with late fees,” added Kirby.

MDTA has said it's metering toll notices to avoid sending customers large bills all at once. However, this doesn't apply to customers who had more than 25 notices when the agency resumed mailings.

Despite receiving the tolls over a year after the transaction date, drivers are being told they’ll have to pay their bills within 30 days.

“At this point, we’re not going to have a choice but to pay it and have to try and figure out which customers were in these vehicles going back that far,” Hood said.

“Well, am I going to pay my E-ZPass bill or am I going to pay my rent and water and all that? It’s mentally stressful in addition to financially stressful,” Kirby said.

Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) introduced legislation that would allow for payment plans, recall debts sent to collections, and waive penalties for backlogged tolls.

RELATED: New legislation targets 'E-ZPass debacle,' bill waives toll penalties, allows for payment plans

The MDTA has made concessions, but in a committee meeting last week, McCray said the negotiations on late fees has come to a standstill.

“It was not self-inflicted. [Drivers] did not choose to get their bill late,” said McCray. “MDTA has vehemently said, ‘Cory, this is going to impact our Trust Agreement if we waive these fees for folks.’”

In its response to the bill, the agency said waiving those penalties would impact their bottom line and encourage toll scoffing.

"As of January 11, 2022, 1.8 million citations remain unpaid that are associated with transactions that were not processed during the mid-March 2020 to mid-October 2020 timeframe. If the civil penalties associated with these transactions are waived, the amount of outstanding debt owed to the MDTA would be reduced by as much as $45.7 million. Furthermore, the civil penalty is one of the strongest tools to trigger payments on the original tolling due, as the MDTA already can and often does provide courtesy waivers of civil penalties when working with customers to resolve their outstanding toll debt. Eliminating the civil penalties will encourage toll scoffing and will reduce tolling payments on valid tolls."

And while MDTA said it often waives late fees, customers need to first contact the agency, which has been no easy feat.

“We tried calling them, no answer. We couldn’t get through,” said Hood.

Call wait times still average over an hour at 71 minutes. And the customer service center continues to receive on average 19,000 calls a day with 118 agents answering phones.

READ MORE: E-ZPass frustrations: Backlogged transactions draining drivers' accounts, long call wait times continue

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii requested an interview with MDTA Director William Pines. He declined the request.

Senator McCray is now asking the MDTA Board to weigh in on the issue of waiving penalties while drivers face hard deadlines, and harder decisions.

“I’m talking to some family to get some money lined up and hopefully I can pay some, but honestly, I’m not sure. It’s a lot and it’s unexpected,” Kirby said. “I’m not sure how they expect everyone to pay two years’ worth of tolls in less than 30 days.”

MDTA spokesperson John Sales said drivers with outstanding tolls are sent a postcard in the mail 60 days before they receive their actual bill, and are given a 15 percent discount if they pay early.

"The 60 days is prior to receiving the 30-day notice, providing a total of 90 days, on average, to spread out their payments. To date, customers have saved $1.6 million by taking advantage of the early payment discount. Customers, who chose not take advantage of the early payment discount, are now receiving their backlogged notices," Sale wrote in an email to Sofastaii.

Hood and Kirby said they never received a postcard with that information.

Senator McCray added that if the Board fails to take action, he plans to continue his push to waive these fees through legislation.

E-ZPass help
If you’re a Maryland driver and need help with E-ZPass tolls, you’re advised to visit a customer service center. Click here for a list of locations and expanded hours of operation.

Drivers can also contact their legislators for assistance.

MDTA added that drivers who speak with an E-ZPass customer service agent are also offered a discount if they agree to sign up for an E-ZPass Maryland account.

"If they agree to sign up for an E-ZPass, we will offer them a toll transfer that will convert their Video Toll to an Image Toll (I-toll) on their current unpaid tolls, saving them at least 30% on their current unpaid tolls. With their new E-ZPass Maryland account, moving forward on future tolls, the customer will save at least 50%, and up to 77% with a commuter plan, by moving from a Video Toll rate to the E-ZPass rate." Sales wrote.