DiNapoli Audit Finds Thruway Owed $276M In Tolls, Fines
The state’s Thruway Authority has to do a better job of identifying, billing, and collecting tolls and related fees, including $276.3 million it has a collection agency seeking as of March 2023, according to a new audit from State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“This audit has identified ways in which the Thruway can improve its collection of tolls and fees,” DiNapoli said. “Based on the Authority’s response, I’m hopeful action will be taken to implement our recommendations to maximize revenue for the Thruway.”
Tolls and related fees make up more than 90% of the Thruway’s revenue. Ninety percent of toll revenues are from users of E-ZPass with the rest through Tolls by Mail. In 2021, the Thruway collected $804 million from tolls and related fees. Nearly half (43%) of the unpaid tolls and related fees, $119.3 million, is owed by out-of-state drivers. A substantial portion of that money is from vehicles registered in New Jersey ($34.2 million) and Connecticut ($16.7 million).
Vehicle owners get a warning if their E-ZPass account has a negative balance for over 30 days. If no payment is made in the next 30 days, the account is canceled and a $25 fee is charged. If the E-ZPass device isn’t returned another $16 fee is added. Tolls by Mail that aren’t paid in 30 days trigger a warning notice and a $5 fine. If it’s still not paid 30 days later, it is in violation and a $50 fee is added to the invoice. Thirty days after the violation notice, the Thruway can send it to a collection agency.
DiNapoli made several recommendations to the Thruway for improving its identifying, billing and collecting tolls and related revenue to the Thruway, including that it:
— Ensure that there is a smooth transition in any change of collection vendors to avoid gaps in service.
— Establish procedures for dismissing violation fees, including the selection criteria that explain why they are being dismissed and the basis for the amounts.
— Review accounts that are eligible to have their vehicle registration suspended to determine where collection efforts will have the best results, and assess the feasibility of entering into registration suspension agreements with more states in addition to Massachusetts.
— Revise the methodology for selecting accounts to refer to DMV for suspension to target persistent violators and accounts nearing the 6-year statute of limitations.
— Ensure that all images rejected by the automated process that are identifiable manually are billed.
— Monitor trends in the incidences of rejected images and take appropriate corrective actions.
The Comptroller’s Office has another audit of the Thruway Authority’s cashless tolling program that is currently in progress, related to billing accuracy and the Authority’s Office of the Toll Payer Advocate’s handling of consumer complaints.
Thruway officials responded to the audit, noting it has some of the lowest tolls in the nation. “Since November 2020, more than 908 million transactions have been processed systemwide, a record 86 percent through E-ZPass,” a spokesman said. “Over the course of the audit period from January 2019 to January 2023, the Thruway Authority collected approximately $3.27 billion in total revenues and maintained rigorous enforcement mechanisms to pursue toll scofflaws. The Thruway remains one of the safest super highways in the nation and continues to make every effort to collect unpaid tolls.”