Feature

First-Time Forgiveness

Oct 27, 2014

Since the launch of the 495 Express Lanes two years ago, we have strived to implement a collection enforcement system that discourages those drivers who purposely receive the benefits of the Express Lanes without paying required tolls, while working to resolve payment issues with those drivers who inadvertently violate the rules. Additional education is needed for the region’s drivers to make sure they are properly using and displaying their E-ZPass devices.

As some drivers have discovered, if their E-ZPass device is not appropriately displayed in their vehicle, or if there are insufficient funds in their E-ZPass account or it is not properly linked to their license plate, Transurban looks to collect tolls through an invoice process, defined by Virginia law. This process includes escalating fees and, ultimately, civil penalties when bills are ignored. In an effort to help customers avoid these fees and fines, we are implementing a new set of policies and procedures as well as outreach to the community to address the concerns we have heard.

As of today, we have made the following changes to our processes for the 495 Express Lanes:

We implemented the “First-Time Forgiveness” program for all E-ZPass customers using the 495 Express Lanes. This program seeks to aid E-ZPass customers who unknowingly have issues on the Express Lanes. Key elements include:

  • No fees for E-ZPass customers – Customers will get a toll invoice if they have insufficient funds in their E-ZPass account, fail to link their license plate to their account or if they incorrectly mount their E-ZPass device. If E-ZPass customers contact the 495 Express Lanes within 60 days of their first trip, we will waive all fees when they provide evidence they have resolved these account issues with E-ZPass, and pay their tolls.
  • No additional penalties for incorrect addresses - In the event that we send an E-ZPass customer an invoice and the letter is returned with an unknown address, we will send the customer to debt collection. However, once debt collection locates the customer, Transurban will waive all fees if the customer contacts debt collection and provides evidence they have resolved these account issues with E-ZPass, and pays their tolls.
  • Self-imposed cap on court penalties - If travelers ignore the process above, we will seek to collect through court action. However, we will put a cap on the number of trips sent to court and pursue a maximum of $2,200 (which includes the administrative fee + civil penalties), plus tolls and court fees, regardless of the number of violations. The civil penalties are determined by Virginia code.

Please note that the first two pieces of this program apply only to first-time violators who are E-ZPass customers on the 495 Express Lanes. The customers need to contact 495 Express Lanes as soon as they realize there is an issue. This program is a means to support Express Lanes customers who have inadvertently made a mistake, and enables us to continue to pursue frequent violators with the full spectrum of fees and penalties authorized by Virginia law.

No longer will a first-time Express Lanes violator be taken to court for tens of thousands of dollars. Under this approach, a first-time violator who has incurred 20 infractions and requires court action, Transurban would pursue a maximum $2,200 instead of the $21,300 currently permitted by Virginia law.

In addition to the above program, Transurban has also taken the following steps:

  • Assigned additional resources, including a new full-time staff position, dedicated to reviewing driver complaints and resolving toll discrepancies.
  • Start sending the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) a weekly list of E-ZPass transponder numbers with insufficient funds so that VDOT can alert those customers to correct the problem.
  • Work on an education campaign in conjunction with Virginia E-ZPass to reach drivers to ensure they know how to manage their E-ZPass accounts.
  • Work to get elected officials as well as other toll facilities in Virginia and Maryland to assist in getting the word out to travelers.

We want to ensure our customers have a good experience and are hopeful that the new customer service efforts will eliminate issues for good customers who have inadvertently made a mistake. In addition, these efforts will reduce the number of E-ZPass account management issues, offer a process to resolve toll invoices before they escalate into higher fines, and still provide a significant deterrent for those trying to avoid or ignore the tolls.

As reminder, all drivers can avoid invoices and escalating fees by following these E-ZPass tips:

  • Make sure your E-ZPass is correctly mounted in the car
  • Make sure your E-ZPass account is linked to your license plate
  • Make sure your E-ZPass account is in good standing with sufficient account funds
  • Consider setting your account up with auto replenishment to avoid having to remember your account balance
  • Make sure an E-ZPass can be read through your windshield. Some vehicle windshields are equipped with solar tint, rain sensors, heat reflective technologies or other materials that can interfere with the E-ZPass signal. Ensure your E-ZPass can be read through your windshield by contacting your E-ZPass agency or vehicle manufacturer if you have questions or concerns about your vehicle.