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Smokey
05-21-2007, 08:44 AM
This article upsets me greatly. Forget SOBs, throw EZ Tag violators in jail.

May 20, 2007, 7:56PM
EZ Tag offenses can take big toll
County's top violator racks up a $19,000 tab that includes $17,500 in penalties, fees

By RAD SALLEE
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

A photo e-mailed automatically from a camera at a Harris County toll plaza alerted dispatchers that a familiar license plate had just passed through an EZ Tag lane.

The vehicle to which it was attached had run through the lane without having an EZ Tag, which happens a lot. But this particular plate was unique in the sprawling tollway system.

The vehicle had run up $19,000 in unpaid tolls, costs and penalties, and ranked No. 1 on the authority's list of EZ Tag scofflaws. Constable's deputies were dispatched, but the vehicle was gone. Again.

Eventually, the motorist probably will be caught and forced in a civil hearing to pay at least part of what is owed.

Unlike drivers who use the Metropolitan Transit Authority's High Occupancy Vehicle lanes without the requisite number of passengers, EZ Tag cheaters can expect to be detected.

Cameras snap photos of vehicles that pass through without the tag, as well as those that have tags but no money in the EZ Tag account from which tolls automatically are deducted.

Only about 1 percent of EZ Tag lane users are violators, said Tracy Smith, manager of enforcement for the authority.

For that reason, and because the motorist is not always at fault, Smith said she doesn't believe the public wants accused toll violators rousted at midnight by officers with warrants.

And even if that were the popular will, she said, "It's not something we can legally do."

Instead, violations are handled in two ways.

If an officer witnesses one, the driver can be cited for a Class C misdemeanor. The maximum fine in justice of the peace court is $200, even for repeated violations.

No human witness

In most cases, the only available evidence is the photo, which means that the violation cannot be prosecuted as a crime because there is no human witness.

Instead, the case ends up in a civil hearing at one of the Toll Road Authority's two administrative hearing centers, downtown and in north Harris County.

The big stick in the hearings is the threat of a lien on the violator's vehicle. This makes it hard to sell a car and blocks drivers from renewing their state registration until the debt is paid.

Smith said the toll road authority blocks about 100 registrations a month. That leaves the motorist vulnerable to being pulled over and ticketed for for an outdated sticker, said hearing attorney James Harris.

Employed by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, the toll road authority's collection agency, Harris has a role in the civil hearings similar to that of a prosecutor in a criminal case.

But he mostly talks one-on-one with the accused the "let's work this out" approach in an effort to resolve the problem.

One day recently, Harris and fellow attorney D'arwyn Daniels huddled at conference tables with several accused EZ Tag violators, most without counsel. A small courtroom next door was quiet, but stood asan incentive for compliance.

Most of the money owed gets collected that way, Harris said. He said he has never seized property to satisfy an EZ Tag because the liens alone are usually persuasive.

So are the collection and court fees. Unlike the flat $200 fine in JP court, these accumulate quickly and vastly exceed the unpaid tolls.

Stacking on the fees

"Harris County has a very user-friendly policy at the beginning, but if you ignore the warnings, the amount is going to go up," Harris said.
Take the motorist who owes $19,000; deputy toll road authority director Peter Key said the sum represented 1,209 violations over a 57-month period. That works out to 21 violations a month, and the unpaid tolls, averaging $1.25 each, were less than $1,500 of the total bill.

Harris said the downtown center handles about 250 violations in two dockets a week, and most cases are resolved at the conference table.

"We did about 20,000 cases last year and are on track for that this year," he said.

The typical big EZ Tag violator, he said, has no tag at all rather than one with a depleted account.

"He's likely to be a savvy debtor," Harris said. "The address given is not correct. The phone and light bill are in other people's names. Sometimes they've filed for bankruptcy.

"It's human nature," he said. "Some people are going to break the rules. And some just don't take it seriously."

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4820722.html

dskillz
05-21-2007, 09:18 AM
County jails are crowded enough without throwing EZ Tag violators in there. So does $17,500.00 in fees mean that the unpaid tolls are only $1,500.00. How do you balloon the bill up to $19,000? While I agree that people should pay to ride the beltway since that is the law, but throwing someone in jail for an unpaid bill isn't legal in Texas anyway, right?

On another note, wasn't the original deal on the beltway was that once it is paid for, the tool booths were supposed to be removed?

Rockets Red Glare
05-21-2007, 09:24 AM
This article upsets me greatly. Forget SOBs, throw EZ Tag violators in jail.

My account has ran out of funds a few times over a 10 year period I hava had an account (expired card, etc...), those guys are real bastards about waving the fees, if the toll road did not save me 30 minutes going to work I would never use it for that very reason. They ignore that the tolls have been paid timely over the past 10 years and just want to give you he11 to collect their additional penalty fees.

updawg
05-21-2007, 09:30 AM
On another note, wasn't the original deal on the beltway was that once it is paid for, the tool booths were supposed to be removed?
I don't think so. Tolls never go away, just keep going up in price

Smokey
05-21-2007, 09:32 AM
Jail would be reserved for the most serious violators. IMO the guy who owes $19,000 should be behind bars. I don't care how they figured that amount...it's simple don't use the EZ Tag lane or just drive on the feeder. I would rather the county go after these crooks instead of raising our tolls.

pirc1
05-21-2007, 09:38 AM
Toll roads are the worst thing in the world! Good thing I do not have any where I live. :D

jo mama
05-21-2007, 09:48 AM
On another note, wasn't the original deal on the beltway was that once it is paid for, the tool booths were supposed to be removed?

and you believed them?

SUCKER!!! :p

pirc1
05-21-2007, 09:51 AM
and you believed them?

SUCKER!!! :p

Once they put a toll on a road it will never be taken off because the government could not live without that income source. Government will always get bigger and bigger and bigger, does not matter who is in charge!

Smokey
05-21-2007, 10:02 AM
I can understand if you have an EZ Tag and get a monthly statement, that's a bill. But driving without an EZ Tag in a an EZ Tag lane is like running a red light. How many red lights do you have to run before you get tossed in jail? They should do a huge sting...check for warrants, bring out drug dogs, heck bring out ICE to check papers.

bigboi
05-21-2007, 03:19 PM
Actually in Virginia interstate 95 was a toll road forever and then about 10 ears ago they took down the toll boths, so it could happen

jo mama
05-21-2007, 08:53 PM
Actually in Virginia interstate 95 was a toll road forever and then about 10 ears ago they took down the toll boths, so it could happen

i remember hearing in the late 80's that the sam houston tollway would go away eventually...

all they did was jack up the tolls a few times.

Stack24
05-21-2007, 09:18 PM
i remember hearing in the late 80's that the sam houston tollway would go away eventually...

all they did was jack up the tolls a few times.

Yeah i remember hearing about that as well. I thought that was the original plan but i can't be for sure. Need someone with good Houston history to tell us. But i guess they couldn't get enough money and just keep raising the prices.

Not to mention that great westpark toll way is useless during the times you need it most. I use it becuase the times i go to work and leave work there is no traffic and want to get home quicker, but during the rush times it's faster to be behind lights on westpark then stuck in traffic on a freaking tollway.

What a novel idea...lets pay to sit in traffic now.

Gutter Snipe
05-21-2007, 09:34 PM
Jail would be reserved for the most serious violators. IMO the guy who owes $19,000 should be behind bars. I don't care how they figured that amount...it's simple don't use the EZ Tag lane or just drive on the feeder. I would rather the county go after these crooks instead of raising our tolls.

Smokey. He has $1500 in unpaid tolls. This amount being paid would lower your costs how? The $19,000 figure is just fees - much like a credit card company piles on.

They said that 99% of people pay. The 1% of unpaid tolls will not lower the toll costs.

We don't have enough jail space for the non-violent pot smokers the police want to throw in jail - you want to house someone in jail for tens of thousands of dollars a year over a freaking toll fee?

I agree, they should be able to have the lien on the car, etc, but jail is a ridiculous overreaction to a minor problem.

jo mama
05-21-2007, 10:54 PM
But i guess they couldn't get enough money and just keep raising the prices.

or as another poster pointed out, once they get used to that revenue stream its hard to just let it go.

at least the harris county toll road authority was something that was actually voted on and approved by the people of harris county. it is a government agency, if im not mistaken. in austin we have cintra, a spanish company running all our toll roads w/ 50 year leases. our government giving multi billion dollar contracts to foreign companies.

HOORAY
HOORAY
FOR THE NAFTA SUPERHIGHWAY!

WWR
05-21-2007, 11:42 PM
I sure am glad I drive on the beltway once a year! :cool:

Mr. Brightside
05-22-2007, 12:33 AM
I'm glad none of you all are riding dirty.

insane man
05-22-2007, 04:00 PM
dallas paid off a tollroad and converted it into i-30 in the 70s.