Robert Peterson commutes to work from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, which takes him over the Grand Island Bridges twice a day. With his E-ZPass discount, each trip racks up a 20 cent toll instead of a dollar.
But when the Thruway Authority replaced Grand Island’s toll plazas with cashless tolls, last March, it all changed for Peterson and many other drivers, “Ever since they went cashless that is when my account started messing up.”
Peterson got a notice in May that his account had a negative balance, and he owed $294, even though Robert said he deposits $25 at a time into his account.
Cashless tolls only started in March, and at 40 cents a day, Peterson would have to commute for more than two years to rack up that kind of debt. To avoid additional charges, Robert now avoids Grand Island altogether.
“I had E-ZPass for three years, went into a negative balance one time and they weren’t charging you $5.00,” before the tolls went cashless, said Peterson. Until the changeover, the Thruway would only charge the standard $1.00 toll if there was a problem with his account.
While Grand Island has only had cashless tolling for a little more than three months, New York highway officials have been dealing with cashless tolls, Downstate, for years.
Bugs in those collection systems prompted state lawmakers to pass a “Toll Payers Protection Act” this year to give commuters like Robert Peterson leverage in dealing with billing and collection issues.
Buffalo Assemblyman Sean Ryan said the problem comes down to the Thruway authority outsourcing their collections to private contractors, and even lawmakers’ patience is wearing thin.
“We are hearing that they are trying to work the bugs out, ‘have patience, have patience.’ But you can’t tell somebody who’s got a huge bill from E-ZPass, threatening to suspend your account–and have fines on it–to have patience.”
Ryan feels confident Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign the Toll Payers Protection Act, so does Assemblyman Robin Schimminger who co-sponsored the bill.
As for Robert Peterson, the Thruway Authority now says he owes nearly $500. But he is no longer dealing with the Thruway’s toll collectors anymore, we got Peterson in touch with actual Thruway customer service representatives.