Ramped-up efforts to crack down on toll violators on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike are paying off in millions of dollars.
In the first eight months of the year, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority collected $13.9 million in administrative fees associated with toll violations — $4 million more than it collected during the same period in 2011, Executive Director Ronnie Hakim said. The fee was increased from $25 per violation to $50 earlier this year in an effort to deter motorists from skirting payments.
Along with the fee increase, the authority also placed cameras in the exact-change lanes, which exist only on the parkway. The cameras capture the license plate numbers of people who don’t pay.
Those efforts appear to have deterred violators, officials said. Violations in exact-change lanes have been reduced by half since the changes went into effect.
“We had a violation rate (in exact-change lanes) that was over 10 percent, and it’s down to about 4.5 percent,” Hakim said.
Local transit authorities have taken a more aggressive approach in dealing with toll violators in recent months. Both the Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the Atlantic City Expressway, entered into pilot programs with the state Motor Vehicle Commission this year. Both authorities have turned over their lists of “most wanted” toll violators — those who have racked up the most egregious amounts in violations — to the commission.
The state has the authority to revoke violators’ vehicle registrations unless they pay up. The Turnpike Authority has turned over the names of 150 violators who owe $1,000 or more in tolls. The SJTA’s list of 150 names includes those who owe at least $200 in unpaid tolls.
“The benefits are going to roll in. As people’s registrations get suspended, you may just continue to operate your motor vehicle as if nothing has changed — until you get pulled over or until you go to renew something at Motor Vehicle Commission. And then you’re going to find out that you’ve got to true up with us in order to get that suspension lifted,” Hakim said.
Since entering into the program in April, the Turnpike Authority has received payments or made arrangements for payments with about 37 percent of the offenders, for a total of $154,000.
The SJTA began the same program in August. Kevin Rehmann, the authority’s spokesman, said he didn’t have any information on violators coming forward, but the names have been turned over to the Motor Vehicle Commission. In the meantime, the SJTA is continuing its usual toll-enforcement efforts, he said.
Toll evaders can also be ticketed by police. At times, the 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.
But enforcing the rules on chronic out-of-state offenders is challenging for both authorities. The registration-suspension program both authorities are using affects only New Jersey drivers. The Motor Vehicle Commission does not have the authority to suspend registrations of out-of-state vehicles.
A review of the SJTA’s toll offenders by The Press of Atlantic City showed that two of the agency’s top 10 violators are not from New Jersey. Minnesota-registered vehicles belonging to Wells Fargo had 661 violations totaling more than $13,000 in tolls and fees when the violators list was turned over to the state. Tropiano Transportation Services, registered in Pennsylvania, had 6,650 violations totaling nearly $52,000.
A list of the Turnpike Authority’s top 500 violators shows that nearly 22 percent are out-of-state vehicles. Thirty-six of the violators on the list are registered in New York, 22 in Pennsylvania and 11 in Maryland. Violators with vehicles registered in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Illinois also made the list, Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said.
Hakim said it is imperative that reciprocity programs be developed with other states to curtail violations. Maine and New Hampshire recently developed a program to share information on toll violators, she said.
Last month, the SJTA voted to redirect more than $18 million from its capital budget, which was originally slated to upgrade the expressway to all electronic tolling. Officials said they feared the agency would be unable to recoup tolls from violators without strong reciprocity programs with surrounding states.
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