SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Every day, an average of 33 car owners are mistakenly accused of failing to pay a toll on a Bay Area Bridge, and many of those say fighting Fastrak’s mistakes can be time consuming and frustrating.
Cynthia Slater experienced the frustration firsthand. The East Bay resident says back in August of 2013, she was wrongly issued a notice for a Toll Evasion on the Bay Bridge on a day she never took the span. “I was perplexed, mainly because that particular day, I was home at the time of the violation,” Slater told Consumerwatch.
Four months later, Slater got another notice wrongly accusing her of driving her through the toll booth of the Bay Bridge without paying the toll. Slater says, that time, she was on the span, but is sure she paid, because she even remembered taking the money out of her ashtray, in which she stores her toll money, since she doesn’t use a Fastrak transponder. “I knew I had paid the toll,” Slater recalled.
But, fighting Fastrak’s mistakes wasn’t easy. Slater says she called the Fastrak service center at least five times, and twice submitted paperwork explaining her case. But she says all her appeals were rejected. “It felt very Kafkaesque,” Slater said.
John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission says while the vast majority of crossings on the seven Bay Area bridges are correctly billed to an existing Fastrak account, or paid in cash without problems, a small fraction of billing mistakes occur every day. He estimates the Fastrak error rate is one-tenth of one percent, or about 33 incidents per day.
At Consumerwatch’s request, the MTC took a look into Slater’s complaint about being wrongly targeted twice for toll evasion. In the first case, Goodwin admitted a license-plate photo taken at the time of the alleged violation was extremely dark and hard to read because a light on the toll equipment wasn’t working. Still, he says it appeared to be Slater’s plate.
The second case, Goodwin speculated it might be possible that a toll taker may have failed to manually push a button that would have recorded that Slater had paid her toll. But he said that’s just a guess. “It’s a he said, she said,” Goodwin explained.
Goodwin says the majority of toll evasion mistakes are due to license plate frames, that obscure the bottom of the characters on the license plate, making it appear that the tag is from a different vehicle. For example, Goodwin says an E will sometimes appear to be an F, or a Z will be read as a 7.
Goodwin says car owners who were wrongly accused of a toll violation should ask call center representatives to “escalate” their case to a supervisor or the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
The MTC has now cleared Slater of both toll evasion cases.