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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 28, 2011

SCHUMER: E-ZPASS USERS GETTING CHARGED HIDDEN FEES OF $25 OR MORE WITHOUT NOTICE; CALLS FOR CREATION OF TEXT-MESSAGE ALERT SYSTEM TO WARN DRIVERS OF ACCOUNT TROUBLE AND LOW BALANCES


Hudson Valley Residents Using High-Speed E- ZPass Tolls, Like Those on Tappan Zee Bridge, Receive No Warning About Low Balances or Problems with Automatic Payment, and Can Pay Over $25 in Fees for Each Unpaid Toll

Over 400,000 Hudson Valley Drivers Use E- ZPass; Schumer Calls On Toll Agencies to Create an Alert System to Warn Drivers About Low Balances and Impending Charges Via Text Message

Schumer: With Gas Prices Adding To Commuting Costs, The Last Thing Hudson Valley Residents Need Are More Unwarranted and Avoidable Fees

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the four toll agencies that operate E-ZPass in New York State to implement a text-message warning system to alert drivers when their E-ZPass balances run low and about any impending charges they may face. While drivers receive visual warnings about low balances or impending charges when using low-speed tolls, drivers do not receive warnings on high-speed tolls, like those on Tappan Zee Bridge and those set to be installed on future high speed lanes in Yonkers, due to safety concerns. As a result, drivers who are accustomed to regular warnings can be blindsided when they receive no similar notifications on these lanes, and can be forced to pay $25 or more on an “administrative fee” for each unpaid toll on top of the typical $4.75 Tappan Zee Bridge toll. Today, Schumer called on these New York toll agencies to establish a text-message warning system to help the over 400,000 Hudson Valley residents and 2.76 million New Yorkers that use E-ZPass avoid unnecessary toll fees.

“With gas prices adding to commuting costs, the last thing Hudson Valley residents need are unwarranted fees every time they pay a toll,” said Schumer. “E-ZPass is supposed to save New Yorkers money, but by failing to notify drivers about impending charges when they drive through high-speed tolls, it’s leaving many of them in the red.  By alerting drivers about any problems via text message, we can make E-ZPass more convenient for hundreds of thousands of Hudson Valley E-ZPass users and save them hundreds of dollars in potential fees.”

Standard low-speed E-ZPass lanes use visual alerts to warn drivers about low account balances. Drivers at low-speed gates receive a visual message, when passing through the fate that reads “low balance” if the account is almost empty. If there is a technical problem with an E-ZPass device, or the account balance is insufficient to pay the toll, a visual message at the gate will read “unpaid” or “call customer service.” High-speed E-ZPass access points do not provide visual warnings, primarily because they may distract or confuse drivers traveling, in some places, up to 65 miles per hour.  Only when customers receive a notice in the mail alerting them to accumulating fines are they made aware of the problem, and by that point they may have already run up hundreds of dollars in fees.

E-ZPass customers pay to replenish their accounts in several different ways. Many drivers pay their accounts by mailing in a check or money order and rely on visual notification to determine when their account is near empty. Drivers also link their E-ZPass to credit cards or debit cards and have their accounts automatically replenished. In the absence of visual notification, drivers can be assessed fees if there is a technical problem or their cards have been denied, only to find out after a notification is received in the mail and fees have already been assessed.

In New York State, E-ZPass is operated by a consortium that is composed of the New York State Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and the New York State Bridge Authority. The fee for passing through the high speed lanes on the Tappan Zee Bridge is $25 per toll, but other commonly-used New York City area tolls charge $50 if an account is overdrawn. There are approximately 411,000 Hudson Valley residents who utilize E-ZPass. The New York State Thruway Authority, which operates the Tappan Zee Bridge, estimates that 135,000 commuters pass over the Tappan Zee each day, 76% of which are E-ZPass users. In addition to the Tappan Zee Bridge, high speed lanes without notification systems are also present on the George Washington Bridge, Henry Hudson Bridge, New York State Thruway, or the Goethals, Outerbridge, and Bayonne Bridges.

Schumer today called on the consortium of agencies that run E-ZPass to work together to create a text-message alert system to warn consumers about low balances or impending charges. Schumer noted that the notifications would not be sent to drivers when they pass through tolls themselves, but rather when their balance is running low, in order to prevent drivers from receiving text messages while they are on the road. Schumer said a text-message alert system would help drivers keep the savings the E-ZPass program is supposed to provide, instead of making residents give back those savings in the form of toll fees.

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