Cuomo slams the brakes on toll payer protection law

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a measure that would have protected New York drivers from unwarranted penalties and fines along the state’s toll roads, including the Grand Island bridges.

Called the “Toll Payer Protection Act” the measure would have applied to all of the state’s toll facilities from the Grand Island bridges to the New York City bridges and tunnels. It passed unanimously last spring–not a single state lawmaker, Democrat and Republican, opposed it–but Gov. Cuomo called the legislation “problematic”.

Grand Island’s cashless tolls brought convenience to thousands of commuters, but the cashless system also brought headaches and confusion for drivers used to paying a dollar, or less, to take the I-190 between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

When Buffalo driver Michael Rainero got his first bill for Grand Island’s cashless tolls, shortly after they were installed last March, he paid it. After that Raneiro said he started receiving more bills with late fees and penalties, and finally a demand notice from a collection agency.

“So they are turning a $6 bill into a $306 bill, and it immediately goes to a collection agency,” Rainero told Call 4 Action.

Horror stories–many of them much worse than Rainero’s–from across the state prompted lawmakers to craft a “Toll Payer Protection Act” that would have allowed drivers such as Michael to present their cases to an administrative authority before getting hit with penalties, or worse.

Sen. Chris Jacobs co-sponsored the Senate version of the legislation, and points out some car owners’ vehicle registrations are being suspended, possibly without cause, “It is impacting people’s pocketbooks, it is impacting the people’s ability to drive their cars legally.  We need to resolve this, and resolve it soon.”

In his veto message, Gov. Cuomo said the legislation would cause, “problematic changes to the capability of toll authorities to both collect and enforce toll violations.”

Many of New York’s toll agencies have been losing millions of dollars due to toll evaders, and Cuomo went on to say the bill “would facilitate greater toll evasion, putting a greater financial onus on law abiding users, which is untenable.”

But Jacobs said many innocent drivers are also paying the price, and blamed a third party vendor for making the costly mistakes.

“The cashless tolling is working, and it is just this back end operation that is the problem, and I think with good heads, and good intentions we can resolve this, but we need to get to work.”

A spokesperson for the Thruway Authority told News 4, many of the measures in the vetoed bill have already been implemented, and the authority has made a number of customer-friendly improvements. 

Jacobs and other lawmakers have also called for toll “amnesty”, similar to a what the Thruway Authority did for Tappan Zee Bridge toll violators just before Grand Island’s cashless tolls were put in place.

But the spokesperson told us, they are not seeing the same concerns here.  To relieve some of the hardships linked to toll collections, Cuomo said he will “propose additional enhancements to benefit all system users in next year’s Executive budget,” which he will announce later in January.

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