Letter: E-ZPass toll system not so easy when an error occurs

Letter: E-ZPass toll system not so easy when an error occurs

Record-Journal
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Rhode Island and Massachusetts can and do issue vehicle registration plates that are similarly numbered. Rhode Island issues 40 diverse types of vehicle registration plates depending on which of the eight vehicle classes the registered vehicle falls into. Ordinarily duplicate vehicle registration plate numbers are not a problem in a visual world. However, when it comes to electronic toll collection systems, duplicate numbered registration plates can and do present problems. Electronic toll collection system toll plazas equipped with automated vehicle identification capability “read” transponders (aka tags) that are mounted in or on a vehicle. The vehicle tag contains codes that are programmed to respond to queries emanating from electronic toll collection systems. Ideally, electronic toll collection systems’ tag readers are programmed to match the vehicle’s class code to prevent the wrong toll amount being charged. Some states also photograph vehicles as they pass through a toll plaza to reduce errors. Nevertheless, the E-ZPass system is not foolproof.

Errors do occur and when they do violations and possible large fines can be assessed. In cases where vehicle owners with registration plates have the same numbers, as well as an E-ZPass account, the wrong toll charges can be assessed and paid automatically without the knowledge of the E-ZPass account holder. The result is one vehicle owner can be wrongly charged while the vehicle owner who incurred the toll does not get charged. Thus, two mistakes occur for the price of one.

When a toll charge error is detected by the E-ZPass account holder, correcting the mistake is both time consuming and frustrating. The wrongfully charged vehicle owner must prove a negative and that can be a daunting task, especially when multiple states are involved. Of course, the vehicle owner who should have been properly charged is not required to do anything, including not paying the toll. Complicating matters is the fact that Rhode Island is one of the 16 states that have implemented the electronic toll collection E-ZPass systems without the benefit of an established interstate standardized error resolution method or procedure designed to correct alleged wrongful toll charges. While each state is adept at levying tolls automatically, they are not as equally adept at correcting errors, especially when out-of-state vehicles are involved. In such cases, wrongfully charged vehicle owners are required to deal with multiple state motor vehicle departments, each with its own set of rules and regulations. Finding the correct state department and then talking to a real person can take days if not weeks. Meanwhile, wrongful toll errors just keep piling up.

Starting at the end of the year Rhode Island will begin to levy tolls on trucks. As mentioned above, the Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles issues 40 diverse types of vehicle registration plates. The department has stated that it has no plans to discontinue the practice of issuing vehicle registration plates that may contain a duplicate number. Tag readers at electronic toll collection system-equipped toll plazas do not differentiate between commercial and non-commercial vehicles that have the same registration plate numbers. Accordingly, any vehicle with a tag that has a duplicate registration plate number may be subject to a toll when traveling on designated truck toll roads in Rhode Island. It is not clear at this point if the department can or will exclude full-sized vans and pickup trucks that are used for personal use only.

One thing that is clear, tolls are taxes by any name.

James A. Angelo

Westerly


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