Jersey's E-ZPass silently suspended fines for system repairs

| Wednesday, September 25, 2002

New Jersey highway officials quietly suspended their E-ZPass enforcement operation for seven weeks this summer to fix the system that was spewing out about 270,000 erroneous notifications to valid customers each month, the Newark Star-Ledger reported. During the shutdown, the state saved $1.5 million by not paying its contractor to send out the notices.

Transportation officials said the July 15 to Sept. 1 shutdown was kept quiet to keep toll runners from taking advantage of the idle system. Since the system was installed three years ago, the state reportedly has spent $33 million issuing penalty letters for the electronic tolls, but collected only $15.7 million in fines and tolls.

The program was reinstated after the state and its new contractor, ACS Local Solutions, launched a campaign designed to restore the public's confidence in the toll program.

Officials have instituted a manual review process requiring workers to check all photographs of alleged electronic toll cheats against computer listings of E-ZPass users before penalties are mailed; a systematic review of equipment, including lane by lane testing and repairing of equipment; and a massive customer outreach program in which E-ZPass users will receive questionnaires to verify data for such things as the drivers' license plate numbers and their credit card expiration dates.

During the shutdown, the tollbooth cameras continued snapping shots of apparent violators, but the penalties were not issued in most cases. Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox told the newspaper the state decided not to let "habitual offenders" get away with it. The E-ZPass system sent fines to people who were caught beating the E-ZPass tolls at least 10 times during August, he said.

And even though fines were not being levied during the shutdown period, tolls were still being collected.

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