Sunday, March 7, 2010

NTTA a scam and violating civil rights

This weekend I was shocked to receive the following (redacted to protect the innocent ... me) letter from a collection agency on behalf of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) stating that they were collecting $182.34 for unpaid toll violations.

I thought about it and there were only three different scenarios where I could conceive there to be a possible infraction.
  • First, I recalled a time several years ago when upon returning home from a family trip we couldn't safely change lanes to get out of the Toll tag lane and into the toll lane in time. I received a bill a couple of weeks later for that incident and promptly paid it.
  • Second, there have been several times when going through the North Dallas Tollway the money collector does not properly tabulate your change. For example, in one occasion I put over 2 dollars worth of quarters into the basket and the counter never showed that I had paid more than 75 cents. I eventually just pulled through even though the light never turned green. As a side note, there ought to be a federal or at least state regulation that requires all toll agencies to contribute the excess to a noble cause or something useful other than lining their pockets... It looks like from this youtube video that this scenario this isn't all that uncommon.
  • Third, there were a couple of occasions where I drove through the George Bush Turnpike (GBT) after they had taken out the toll booths and replaced them with some sort of automated tolling system.
I must admit that in this third case I was a little freaked out the first time I drove through the GBT seeing the toll lanes blocked and signs like this one [left].

Trusting that they would send me a bill, I promptly and gladly forgot about the toll fully expecting to receive a bill that I would of course promptly pay. However, the bills NEVER CAME!!!!!

Instead, the letter from a collection agency arrived several months later on behalf of NTTA.

In all three of these scenarios, I am completely innocent of any wrong doing. Upon receipt of a bill, I paid it. Despite being robbed by an automated toll change collector, I paid more than was expected before driving on. And lastly, I couldn't be responsible for paying a bill that I never received!!!!

Back to my story... I called the NTTA (waiting for nearly an hour before I could talk to a real person). Lisa from the NTTA was kind enough to take my call. I asked if the NTTA had ever sent me a bill for these alleged violations. She recited several dates where the NTTA had sent a bill and then followed up a month later with a late notice bill and then after that handed the bills off to a collection agency. I told Lisa that I had NEVER received a bill pertaining to these charges. She insisted that the computer system shows that bills had been sent.

I then verified my billing address to insure that the NTTA had the correct information. Throughout our conversation I re-verified the billing address two other times just to be sure that it was correct. Indeed it was.

Lisa said that since this was my first offense she would give me a one time opportunity to pay my overdue bills without penalty. The sum total of my bill less penalty charges was a mere $7.34. I couldn't believe that the sum total was less than $10. They charged me an extra $175 in penalties for a $7.34 bill that I had NEVER SEEN! If this isn't a scam I don't know what is.

Here is a redacted copy of the receipt for my toll fees:

I asked Lisa to show me how to login to NTTA.org so that I could see the toll violations for myself. Lisa looked up my NTTA account number, which I can't get unless they send me a bill. We then entered the account number and the assocaited license plate number. Here were the 7 offenses.


Not sure if you can see it or not but the first two were from 2008. That was over two years ago!!! I haven't moved in over 5 years, so there is no excuse for not having sent the bills to the appropriate address. The NTTA simply just didn't send them!!!

Now that you have heard my lament, you are probably thinking just buy a toll tag and quit griping.... right? Well in researching for this blog post I have discovered that my situation appears to be more the norm than the exception. This youtube clip from CBS11 is a good example but there are many more. Just google on NTTA scam and you will find many more similar stories.

This begs the question, how does this situation line up with the law?

The Eighth amendment to the Constitution of the United States (e.g. the Bill of Rights) states
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
This statement is echoed in the section 13 of the Bill of Rights section of the Texas Constitution as well.

I am not sure what constitutes an excessive fine but the multiplier effect of each use of the tollway should be taken into consideration. For example a $25 fine for an unpaid $1.00 toll seems excessive. However, if the person used the toll 20 times, the fines would be $500 for a $20 toll bill. That seems very excessive to me.

Further, if people are intentionally not provided a bill in a timely manner so as to negate their opportunity to pay in a timely manner should be a criminal offense in my humble opinion. This was clearly the case for me and it doesn't appear that I am the only person in this situation as you can see from the many comments on this thread.

In researching this matter I saw several justifications of the fines stating that they are legitimate because the effected people were informed via their NTTA bill that a $25 fine would be imposed for every unpaid toll bill. I can understand that if people actually got a bill in a timely manner. However, I (and apparently many other people) have NEVER received a bill before receiving a collections notice.

The collection noticed cited Section 366.178 of the Texas Transportation Code which states that you can be fined up to $250 per incident plus an additional $100 administration fee per incident. That means that the NTTA can charge you up to $350 per $1.00 toll that you don't pay in a timely manner. That is insane! This law needs to be repealed or modified to limit the scope to a lower maximum per incident and capped at a maximum annual fee and for that matter a maximum lifetime fee!!! Further, someone needs to file a class action law suit to recover damages for everyone that hasn't stood up for their rights.

CBS stated that there are an estimated 500,000 people that use the George Bush Turnpike every day. If only 20% are scammed in the same way that I was scammed, the NTTA is earning nearly an extra $2.3 million in fines alone every day.

I have read of many people electing to not use toll roads. I'm not so sure that is very practical for most north DFW commuters. In addition, it doesn't defend the rights of unsuspecting and defenseless people that pass through our state that will not stand up for themselves and just pay the fines.

So, to all of you lawyers and television news networks out there that want to see real justice, please look into this matter and see to it that the NTTA is held accountable for this abusive scam and violation of the civil rights of Texans and every other person that happens to pass through a North Texas toll road.

Thanks in advance!

Brad

9 comments:

Randy Davis, VP said...

Nice report, and I agree with your assessment of NTTA. But Mannatech? Hmmmm. Seems I recall that this company was investigated for running its own scam in selling products that have never been independently proven to have any scientifcally verifiable benefits. And wasn't the founder of this company, Sam Caster, accused of fraud or propagating hoaxes in two previous companies?

Brad Diggs said...

Randy,

Thanks much for your comment!

With respect to Mannatech, all that I can say is that Ambrotose has single handedly given me a level of wellness that I have never been able to achieve without it. So, despite what people may think or believe about the company or its leadership, the product is worth everyone's consideration. You can learn more about Ambrotose at my Mannatech web site.

I hope that you have a wonderful and blessed day!

Brad

Edgar said...

Dear Brad,


My name is Edgar Morales, and I work for State Representative Rafael Anchia in the Capitol in Austin. Rep. Anchia has authored a bill calling for a Sunset Review of the North Texas Tollway Authority. This review would examine the practices, policies and procedures of the NTTA. Our office spotted your complaint about the NTTA, and we'd be most interested in speaking with you about your issues in preparation for our hearing next week. Would you please send me your phone and e-mail contact information? My contact information is listed below. Thank you!

Edgar I. Morales
Legislative Intern
Office of State Representative Rafael Anchia
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768-2910
512-463-0746 Office
512-463-5896 Fax

Michael K said...

Dear Brad, Edgar Morales, I think I speak for other Texans as well when I voice my concern over NTTA and their practices. I repeatedly get bills from them that are excessive with fees attached to original tolls. This would be understandable if there was a pattern of notification. But there never is. I was recently notified 10 months after I used the tolls in regard to how to pay the toll. Then, I was charged an admin fee. Please let's help them figure out a way to warn people fairly, and charge fairly. They are way out of bounds. I simple internet search reveals that thousands are being ripped off by NTTA. Any other business doing this would be subject to a class action lawsuit...like yesterday.

Mike K
Austin, TX.

Terika Miller said...

Any luck with that class action suit? I'm very interested if so.

Trudy Berry said...

I am also interested in finding out about the class action suit that should be filed. This is highway robbery. I had the same experience and now owe $234 for $6 worth of charges that I never received a bill for until they were up to $99. Three months later, they were $234. Is this even legal? Something must be done. They are now offering to cut the bill in half if I will buy a toll tag. That doesn't seem honest to me.

Lacey Bathala said...

I had $574.57 in toll charges (non ZipCash rates) and received a late notice, 2 years later, stating I owed $10,877.37. I never received any bills until the amount was $10,877.37. I was livid and feel like the NTTA is highly unethical. I'm glad the legislators passed the one time toll forgiveness law. I've got to come up with $574.57 but at least its saves me $10,302.80. Sheesh! What kills me is, the toll road is paid for already. Built and paid for BUT they still charge us. Its not partially owned by the Japanese which really worries me. I mean, the Japanese sees this as an investment!!!

YabooDoo said...

Good news! Now HVO lanes are toll lanes! /sarcasm

The stated reason was that HOV lanes were not used very much. But, riding a motorcycle to work and back, I saw heavy use of the HOV lanes by myself and others. However, they figured it was easy pickings to make them toll lanes now.

Since they became toll lanes, traffic south-bound on 75 has been backed up almost constantly every day at 10am. 10am! The times I pass by I notice a cop car blocking up 1 lane of normal highway, but the toll lane is completely open. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks this is some lame attempt to cause a traffic jam in the normal lanes to entice folks to jump into the toll lane. Since the lanes became toll they've already jumped $0.05 in price. And it's just to use 75 to go to 635 or leap-frog over 635 and get back on 75... at which time the toll lane ends.

It's not bad enough that every new road built is a toll lane. But, now they comandeered the HOV lanes to make toll lanes, too.

Now, why am I paying gas tax (which is supposedly used for road construction and maintenance) when I also have to pay toll fees, too? Sounds like double-taxation. Yet nobody calls out NTTA on this for some reason. Likewise, the NTTA's scam is that the toll road profits go to a) paying off the road, b) excess profits go towards private investors that first got the road going. The Sam Rayburn toll road profits are going to a company in Mexico if I recall correctly. After 20-25 years, the city gets ownership of the road. But, for that time span the investors get to profit from it even after the bonds are paid off. At the rate they charge, they can have the road paid off in 5 years max, which means it's 15-20 years of nothing but profit (save for occasional maintenace), and they can jack up the prices as they see fit.

It's quite the racketeering scam if you ask me.

YabooDoo said...

One more comment ... what I find very annoying is that normal city road projects seem to draw out forever. For about 6 months going north bound on Coit (from 75) was backed up, b/c 1 lane was closed. What were they doing? They had a 20' section blocked off to fix a pot hole or such. Why did it take so long? My assumption (having a father that worked for the government) was that they get enough tax/bond moeny to cover the start of a project, but didn't get enough to see it through to completion. So, they probably had to wait for the next quarterly budget to pass or something to renew the contract with the workers to finish the project. In the meantime, the road remains blocked up and nothing is being worked on.

However, when they converted the HOV lanes to toll lanes, they had to whole project done within a month or so. Signs put up, censors to charge you, etc, etc.

It irks me how quickly they get a project done when it means collecting more money from citizens. But, when it's just a routine maintenance of city roads the project is left lingering like a festering wound for the longst time.

Also, I think if they really wanted to manage traffic better they should have just made all HOV lanes into dedicated trucking lanes. This would have gotten long-haul trucks into their own lane, preventing lane shifting, people diving in front of them, etc and perhaps reducing traffic accidents. There are some long-haul trucks that just go through DFW to another destination. Give them their own lane to drive in, and get them out of the normal traffic lanes.

But, no, it's better to charge folks than to increase safety.