How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

HOT Lanes and Tolling Fairness

This weekend, I was working on our family budget for 2016 and I was going through my spending from last year.  I noticed that between January and April 15, I had no charges on my EZ Pass account.

However, when I got back from Richmond and started campaigning, I spent a lot of time up and down I-95 to knock doors and attend events in Woodbridge, Dumfries and Stafford County.  Between April 13 and the end of the year, I had spent $1,137.07 on tolls. 


Driving down the HOT Lanes 3-4 days per week brought home for me real cost that transportation has on Prince William and Stafford County commuters.  When I was out knocking doors, tolling fairness was the number one complaint I received.  That's why I have introduced three different bills to help the situation.

SB266 - Studying Fairer Tolling
One complaint I heard on the doors in Prince William and Stafford County was that residents did not understand why Virginia taxpayer pre-existing investment in the I-95/I-395 HOV lanes was not recognized in the tolling structure.  The HOT lanes were not entirely new - they partly expanded existing lanes from 2 to 3.  However, in-state residents still pay the same as out-of-state residents.

I researched this and discovered that in some states, in-state residents are either charged less, receive rebates, or have monthly transponder fees waived for using state roads.  SB266 asks the Virginia Department of Transportation to look into this and report back whether we have other options.

SB267 - One Year Statute of Limitations
In order to collect tolls from drivers who do not pay, toll road operators have to bring a legal action.  Earlier this year, there was a dispute about whether a suit had to be brought within one year or operators could waive up to two years before bringing a lawsuit.

All of the Judges in Fairfax County have held that these suits have a one-year statute of limitations, but now that the HOT lanes have been expanded, other jurisdictions are weighing in and we need to have a clear statute of limitations in the Code to avoid unnecessary litigation.

I also believe that companies should bring these actions sooner rather than later so that drivers are able to defend themselves while the information is still fresh in the mind and the information is available.

SB268 - A Fair Fine System
Another quirk of the toll violation system is that toll road operators have been applying the fine structures in an abusive way.  Here is the current fine structure:
  • First Offense - $125
  • Second Offense - $250
  • Third Offense - $500
  • Fourth+ Offense - $1,000
However, operators have been suing people for stepped up fines before they are convicted of a single offense.  Therefore, if your battery goes dead and you drive five days on the roads before realizing it, you can get sued for 10 violations (2 trips per day over five days) and $7,825 in fines ($125 + $250 + $500 + $1000 x 6) - even if you're unpaid tolls are only $50.

My legislation says that you cannot be sued for a stepped up fine until you have been convicted of a prior offense.  Therefore, you would have to go to court and be convicted before you could be sued for a stepped up fine.  I think this is a fairer way to proceed.

As always, let me know if you have any feedback on my legislation at scott@scottsurovell.org. 

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