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MDTA Board votes to temporarily waive late fees for outstanding toll bills

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Posted at 10:23 AM, Feb 24, 2022

BALTIMORE — The Maryland Transportation Authority Board has approved a series of measures providing relief to drivers inundated with backlogged tolls.

Although outstanding bills won't be forgiven, all civil late fees will be waived until midnight on November 30. This grace period applies to all penalties including bills issued pre-pandemic.

In addition, unpaid toll bills will not be referred to the Central Collections Unit or the MVA. In many cases that's led to flags being placed on vehicle registrations and threats from the MVA to withhold tax refunds and document renewals.

And the MDTA plans to work with its toll vendor to increase the number of customer service agents to reduce call and web chat wait times. Currently, call wait times are around 45 minutes. Before the pandemic, the average wait time was just over two minutes. The MDTA is also working with its toll vendor to explore payment plan opportunities.

In 2020, the MDTA paused processing toll transactions for seven months. Maryland Transportation Secretary James Ports, Jr., said this was for several reasons including financial relief and transitioning to a new tolling vendor. As a result, drivers are now receiving old bills and in large stacks.

"A lot of times there are commercials on TV that say, 'Buy your furniture today. No payment, no interest for a year!' Well, we had no payment, no interest, no civil penalties for a year and most people look at the furniture deal as a plus, but they look at this as a negative," said Ports.

Nearly 4.5 million Video Toll/Image Toll transactions and just under 10,000 E-ZPass transactions remain to be processed, according to an MDTA spokesman.

Customers who haven't yet paid their toll bills may still see penalties attached to their statements online, but they will be removed following software changes, which are expected by mid-March.

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

The plan, however, is not retroactive and anyone who has already paid late penalties will not be refunded. Customers already found liable in district court also will not be eligible for a waiver.

"At $25 per toll, how do you explain to those drivers who did what they were supposed to do but aren’t going to be refunded?" asked WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.

"We have a Trust Agreement, and in that Trust Agreement, the Board has to take an action before something can occur, so you cannot have a retroactive policy. It has to start the day it’s enacted, so it’s enacted today. No different than when they change tax laws," said Maryland Transportation Secretary James Ports Jr. "We’re giving people nine months. I think it’s very generous on our part. Actually, you can have a baby in nine months."

State Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore), who sponsored a bill that addresses these backlogged bills, disagrees with the decision to not also provide leniency to customers who already paid penalties for backlogged tolls.

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

"The reality is this is all on the MDTA and the Hogan Administration. One of the things that we saw was that they did not send out the bills. When they did not send out the bills for several months, what it did was it accumulated in a great number for folks that are now indirectly impacted and have tough choices in front of them. I’m saying MDTA should have to make the tough choices and come up with creative solutions," Senator McCray told Sofastaii.

One of these solutions includes offering credits to these customers, which he plans to bring up in his next meeting with MDTA Acting Executive Director William Pines.

"Mallory, I think it's important to just salute you, you've been following this issue being one of the originators, if not the first person to kind of broadcast and talk to about this issue," said McCray. "I do not think we're at the end of this. I think we're at the beginning or the middle, and I think we're about to reach a peak and I think we need to deal with this issue especially while the legislature's in session."

There are a number of bills in the General Assembly in response to this backlogged bill situation. Senator McCray said after his meeting with the MDTA he'll alter his legislation to address any gaps.

The bills would need to crossover to the other chamber by March 21 to survive.

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

As of December 1, any unpaid tolls and civil penalties will be due based on the due dates and debt referrals will once again be sent to CCU and the MVA.

Also, this is not a toll forgiveness plan. You can still dispute tolls if you don’t think you should’ve been charged, however, they won’t be waived.