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 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!