Since 2010, the South Jersey Transportation Authority has been cheated out of more than $123,000 by toll evaders on the Atlantic City Expressway.
In an effort to recoup that money, SJTA is considering entering into a new pilot program with the Motor Vehicle Commission that would pressure the roadway’s most egregious offenders to cough up what’s owed.
The threat: Pay the tolls and the associated fees or your vehicle registration will be suspended.
But even so, the program isn’t fool-proof. The Motor Vehicle Commission only has the right to revoke registrations in New Jersey, so it won’t have any effect on out-of-state offenders — two of which are among the expressway’s 10 top toll evaders.
Tropiano Transportation Services, with vehicles registered in Pennsylvania, has 6,650 violations totaling $51,774.80 — more than anyone else on the list. Wells Fargo, with vehicles registered in Minnesota, owes $13,154 from 661 violations, according to data provided to The Press of Atlantic City through an Open Public Records Act request.
“We are more than reasonable in the way we try to handle these situations. This is one more way we could hope to recoup the money,” SJTA spokesman Kevin Rehmann said. “But if they’re not New Jersey vehicles, this doesn’t have an effect.”
SJTA could vote on the program later this month. If adopted, the names of more than 150 individuals and businesses that owe at least $200 in tolls accumulated since 2010 will be turned over to the Motor Vehicle Commission. Once that agency is involved, SJTA’s role is minimized because only a court can dismiss the action.
That doesn’t mean that SJTA won’t attempt to collect what’s owed from other offenders. Those that don’t meet the threshold for the Motor Vehicle Commission program will still be pursued by collection agencies.
While the individual toll amounts might be manageable in some cases, once fees are tacked on, the numbers skyrocket. In one case, $51 in unpaid tolls amounts to $276 once fees are added on. In total, the $123,000 the authority intends to recover inflates to $1.15 million once fees are added.
Nicolette Tropiano, general manager for Tropiano Transportation Services, said a number of E-ZPass transponders that weren’t working properly were to blame for the company’s violations, and they were unaware of the problem for months. She said she had been in contact with SJTA about the violations, but didn’t think the company should have to pay the fines associated with the $6,674.80 in unpaid tolls.
The reason Tropiano’s vehicles were traveling the expressway in the first place was due to the relationship the company had with SJTA. Tropiano provided shuttle service at the Atlantic City International Airport, also operated by SJTA, from 2007 until November 2011. After a three-year contract expired, and the parties could not agree on terms for a prolonged extension, the company continued operations at the airport on a month-to-month basis but eventually gave notice that it would cease operations.
Tropiano’s departure led to SJTA’s decision to enter into a temporary arrangement with jitneys to provide shuttle transportation.
The toll violations and the company’s decision to not continue working at the airport were unrelated, Tropiano said.
Meanwhile, SJTA may try to recoup the tolls it’s owed from the company by other means. Nicolas Tropiano, president of Tropiano Transportation Services, has been charged with third degree theft regarding his company’s failure to pay tolls on the expressway, according to a summons obtained through the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Representatives of Wells Fargo could not be reached.
Previously, longtime toll violators were turned over to a collection agency that attempted to recoup the money, often unsuccessfully. Toll evaders can also be ticketed by police. At times, SJTA places an employee at tolls booths who takes down the license plate, make, model, and color of offending cars, and tickets are later mailed by police.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, already implemented a similar program in April targeting offenders who owe at least $1,000 in tolls.
Contact Jennifer Bogdan:
Follow Jennifer Bogdan on Twitter @ACPressJennifer