FasTrak customers billed a year later

October 8, 2008 10:47:31 PM PDT
Imagine getting a FasTrak bridge toll bill for hundreds of dollars more than usual. That is actually happening to thousands of commuters.

The news is not good for many of these consumers.

Judith Hoepker is a school teacher. You know how hard she must work to make ends meet. So her FasTrak bill came as a big shock.

"Well, the problem is they started double charging me. Within a week they took $285 out of my account. They are charging me for bills that happened a year ago," said Hoepker.

It is happening to thousands of Bay Area commuters, including Bernard Wormgoor.

"I received in August of this year, I received a statement from FasTrak and it was a statement from exactly a year ago -- July 2007 as opposed to this year," said Wormgoor.

What is going on here? We went to the FasTrak people for answers.

"They are being billed properly. They are just being billed late," said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Goodwin says cars driving on FasTrak lanes with transponders that do not transpond have a picture taken of their license plate. That picture is sent by a FasTrack computer to a DMV computer.

If the car's owner has a transponder, the account is debited and if there is a new plate because a new car has been bought, that plate is added to the approved list.

Now here is where the problem comes in. The computers can read fine, but they can't count past six.

"The DMV had issued a whole bunch of new license plates. These are license plates that begin with the number seven or eight," said Goodwin. "The interface between our two systems had not been upgraded to recognize these new numbers, these seven and eight numbers."

So the car's owners did not get billed. But the FasTrak people eventually figured it out and are now sending out bills. Some, a year to the day after the bridge was actually crossed.

"Do you think this is fair?" Michael Finney asked.

"I think it is fair. I think it is inconvenient. These are charges that would have come out four dollars at a time anyhow," said Goodwin.

"But that's not how you budget at your household. Of what you maybe should have paid for a year ago you get dinged with today? Would you be ready for that?" asked Finney.

"I take your point," said Goodwin.

"But you aren't going to do anything," said Finney.

"I don't think there's a single one size fits all answer to this," said Goodwin.

The law is clear, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is owed the money and with $350,000 crossings not paid for, the commission was looking at losing upwards of a million and a half dollars.

There were other issues with our two consumers -- the letter "O" written where zeros should have been, changes in cars, past owners messing up. Bottom line, the agency says it should have been more consumer friendly and will try to be so in the future. We think they should have sent out letters with payment plans.


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