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Audit reveals Transportation Authority overcharged drivers for tolls during COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted at 2:41 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 14:41:48-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland General Assembly's Office of Legislative Audits released a report Thursday that found several instances of the Transportation Authority overcharging drivers for tolls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, Governor Larry Hogan halted all toll collection efforts. Months later, the state transitioned to all electronic tolling, accepting no cash payments.

Notices of past due toll bills resumed October 15, 2020.

Around February 2018, the state switched contractors to take over day-to-day tolling operations.

Auditors believe the change may have resulted in some of the errors that took place.

Specifically auditors noted issues at five state tolling facilities; the Fort McHenry Tunnel, Intercounty Connector, the I-95 Express Toll Lanes, the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial (Hatem) Bridge, and the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

According to the report, some were handled differently than others.

From October 21 to November 26, 2019 the audit flagged 5,646 transactions for 2-axle vehicles that may have been overbilled traveling through the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge. According to the Transportation Authority, those customers were credited a total of $67,000.

In the case of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, a malfunction caused incorrect axle counts leading to 7,700 customers being overbilled $84,400.

Md toll revenue

As of August 2021, the Transportation Authority was still working to refund those customers.

In January, March, August, and September 2020, the report found that cameras at the tunnel were misreading vehicles in other toll lanes, resulting in double charges.

Similar problems occurred through April and May 2020 at the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

"In this instance, customers were both correctly charged for a 2-axle vehicle ($3), and then incorrectly charged again for a 5-axle vehicle ($24) one second later," auditors noted in the report.

Those issues also came up along the Intercounty Connector and I-95 Express Toll Lanes throughout different parts of 2020.

Auditors say the Transportation Authority denied having any knowledge of the issues.

They did however conduct some test runs which found a small number of billing discrepancies, but never researched the exact number of customers affected and how much they were overcharged.

According to MDTA records reviewed by auditors, there was a significant increase in the amount of tolls dismissed due to errors from September 2019 to December 2019 compared to that same time period in 2018, which accounted for almost five percent of all tolls billed in 2019.

In response to the number of errors uncovered in the report, the Transportation Authority claimed, "During the audit period, MDTA processed an average of 158 million transactions per year. In a detailed analysis provided to OLA covering four specific days at two different facilities, MDTA identified 15 occurrences of customers being overcharged out of a total of 230,687 transactions. This reflects an error rate of 0.000098."

They also shared the chart below to backup their claims.

Toll overcharge errors

Ultimately this is what Legislative Auditor Gregory A. Hook, concluded in the report.

"In each case, once aware of the issue, it does appear that MDTA did take timely action to resolve the toll equipment or software deficiencies responsible for the problems. Although, our review found operational deficiencies regarding certain MDTA actions, we did not identify any issues that warranted a referral to the Office of the Attorney General – Criminal Division."

The entire report can be read below.