EZ-pass cheaters rip off tax payers
Updated: Friday, May 16 2014, 08:14 AM EDT
Rochester, N.Y. -- About 24 million drivers use an E-Z Pass to make it faster and easier to navigate toll roads. It turns out evading the bill after the fact is also E-Z.
In a Waste Watch investigation, 13WHAM News has learned some people use elaborate devices to cheat the system. Others get away with tens of thousands of dollars because the state does little to go after the money.
Port Authority police officer Steve Pisciotta held up a license plate that has been crudely altered.
"This plate is actually a 2-3 grease," he said. "The grease on the plate made it appear to be an 8."
They've also amassed a collection trick plates that are much more sophisticated, including flip plates.
"It has a switch right here that would be on the dash board," he said. "When it approached the toll, (the driver) flipped a switch. The license plate is now out of view of the camera."
We found it was easy to locate dozens of flip-plates and hide-a-plates on the Internet for about $100 each. That's about equal to the tolls of two round trips between Rochester and Manhattan.
Using these devices can lead to criminal charges, so some toll cheats don't use them. Instead, they simply drive through and then refuse to pay.
Authorities said most of the cheats operate downstate and rack up huge bills. Hatim Said owes $94,000 in tolls and fines from driving a transport van into Manhattan every day.
Taxi driver Eric Mark Bonhommer owes $28,000.
An Oklahoma trucking company owes a whopping $1.7 million.
Other than a call from a collection agency, repeat cheats face few consequences. There are no criminal penalties for refusing to pay. The state doesn't even aggressively go after what it's owed.
All of this adds up to a loss to tax payers of $150 million dollars in the last five years.
When the Thruway hikes tolls to make up the difference, honest drivers pay.
"I think it's terrible," said E-Z Pass subscriber Mark George. "I think they should be held accountable just like if I didn't pay my RG&E bill."
George is a salesman who is on the road five days a week with an E-Z Pass bill to match.
"There should be a system in place to protect people who are paying their bills," he said.
Sen. Joe Robach chairs the transportation committee. He said the Thruway needs to more aggressively go after the money it's owed and create consequences for cheaters that include fines and suspending registrations.
"The fines are relatively small now, and we're not apprehending a lot of people or recouping a lot of that money," Robach said. "I would like to see that changed."
Two proposed laws would increase the consequences for toll evaders.
A Senate bill would suspend a driver's registration after five toll violations in 18 months.
An assembly bill goes one step further adding criminal penalties. However, neither bill addresses ways to go after the money that's already owed.
For people like George, the solution to the problem of tollroad cheats is simple.
"I think there should be some type of system in place," he said. "Strike one, strike two, strike three and you lose your ability to drive on the Thruway."