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Some Agencies Evade Tolls On Bay Area Bridges, MTC Records Flawed

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Catwalks hang over a section of the newly constructed eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Catwalks hang over a section of the newly constructed eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Each day, thousands of commuters cross over the Bay Area’s toll bridges. A KPIX 5 investigation found not everyone is paying, and the system keeping track of violations has flaws.

“Everybody is obliged to pay the toll,” said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Traffic Commission, which oversees the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges. The MTC tracks who pays and sends toll violations to those who do not.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission oversees the bay area’s seven state-owned bridges. They track who pays and send toll violations to those who do not.

“We treat everybody the same, whether it’s a private individual or a government agency,” Goodwin said.

A KPIX 5 investigation found that MTC’s records show at least 20 state and local agencies across Northern California were not always paying their tolls.

Their data showed that Caltrans was the worst offender, with a whopping $4.4 million in past due violations and fines. The data showed there were smaller offenders too, such as the City of Oakland. The MTC claimed they owed more than $4,000.

“I have no particular sympathy for government agencies that don’t pay their tolls,” Goodwin said.

But KPIX 5 took a closer look and it turns out, the data the MTC has been keeping is deeply flawed. Neither Caltrans nor the City of Oakland owes anywhere even close to what MTC’s records show.

“At first it was shocking,” said Tamie McGowen of Caltrans.

Until Caltrans officials contacted the MTC and learned they owed nowhere near $4 million in back tolls.

“It was actually $118,000 we owed in back tolls,” said Tamie McGowen of Caltrans.

Why the massive discrepancy? The MTC blames a new monthly bill processing system implemented for Caltrans. But we also found instances where the MTC mistakenly billed Caltrans vehicles that should have been exempt from paying tolls.

And some agencies told KPIX 5 the MTC never sent them invoices about their fines.

In the case of the City of Oakland, the MTC was forced to cancel more than $4,000 in fines wrongly leveled against police and fire vehicles, which legally do not pay tolls when their lights and sirens are on.

The MTC admitted to KPIX 5 that their violation processing system is backlogged and there were software glitches that have been fixed. They say KPIX 5’s investigation revealed how “things fell through the cracks in an enormous way,” the agency said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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