FasTrak mistakenly charges SoCal business, Bay Area couple for years

Melanie Woodrow Image
Thursday, October 12, 2023
FasTrak mistakenly charges CA business, drivers for years
A Southern California business owner and a Danville man say they've been mistakenly getting charged for FasTrak toll and express lane fees for years.

DANVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- Dozens of mistaken Bay Area bridge toll invoices and express lane fees. That's what a Southern California business owner and a Danville man say they're contending with.

On any given day there are dozens of cars on the SellMax lot in San Diego. The SoCal business buys and sells cars regularly.

Co-founder Sean Pour says some of the cars aren't even drivable, yet still every month he says his business receives mistaken Bay Area FasTrak bridge toll invoices.

"It's been going on for years. I mean we've gotten at least 40, 50, maybe 60 tickets," said Pour.

Tickets like one which identified a SellMax Ford based on the license plate read by FasTrak's optical character recognition software, but in actuality photographed a Honda going over the San-Mateo Hayward Bridge.

"We just kept thinking how the heck is this happening," said Pour.

And one for a vehicle headed over the Benecia-Martinez bridge with a license plate that was so difficult to read it went to manual review where it was still mistakenly identified because the license plate was partially covered by a plate frame.

"If they can't read it, we can't read it, how are they sending out that ticket," said Pour.

MORE: Thousands of Bay Area drivers dispute unfair FasTrak charges on freeway express lanes

Pour says SellMax's office manager spends two to four hours a month contesting Bay Area FasTrak bridge toll invoices all of which have been successfully dismissed.

"It's a bit frustrating because it's taking a lot of time from our work day to deal with these tickets," said Pour.

"His job description was not handling Bay Area toll bridges," he continued.

John Goodwin, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Bay Area Toll Authority is not surprised.

"It's unfortunate that this happens. It does happen and it happens with remarkable regularity," said Goodwin.

He says the FasTrak system isn't perfect.

"We shoot for perfection, we don't deliver perfection, and so in that gap is some frustration, totally understandable," Goodwin explained.

Goodwin tells the I-Team if the optical character recognition software reads a license plate with a confidence rating of 98% or higher, an invoice is generated.

VIDEO: Woman thousands of miles away from Bay Area gets FasTrak toll bill; here's how it went wrong

A Washington woman thousands of miles away from the Bay Area received a FasTrak toll ticket. Here's how FasTrak gets it wrong

If the confidence level is less than 98%, it is sent to manual review where an actual person reviews it.

"These guys work really hard, they have to deal with a lot of images in a really short amount of time so they make mistakes too," said Goodwin.

Goodwin says the manual reviewers make a mistake less than 1% of the time in any given month.

He could not provide how often the optical character recognition software gets it wrong.

Between January and June of this year for the MTC express lanes 880 and 680 in Contra Costa County plus the 7 state owned toll bridges and the Golden Gate bridge, 74,025 invoices were disputed. Of those, nearly 53% or 38,960 were overturned.

"I think it tells me that the system works," said Goodwin.

"They get a hold of us, the chances are better, slightly better than 50/50 that hey we'll see you're right, you've got compelling evidence," he continued.

"Nobody has time or like a great desire to do this," suggested ABC7 News I-Team reporter Melanie Woodrow.

MORE: Changing amounts of money auto-withdrawn for FasTrak accounts vex drivers

"Yeah, I don't dispute that either," said Goodwin.

"There are manifest inconveniences to modern life," he continued.

Bob Muson, a Danville resident has also been feeling those inconveniences.

"We like it here a lot," said Munson referring to his neighborhood.

Primarily for the proximity to the 680, which Munson says he and his wife take daily to get anywhere.

"Our street goes under 680 here," pointed out Munson.

With a FasTrak Clean Air Vehicle toll tag, Munson should be able to travel toll-free in the express lane on 680 in Contra Costa County so long as a passenger is with him and he changes the face of the tag to match the number of people in his car.

But for years he says he's been mistakenly charged in the express lane.

MORE: Lawsuit says FasTrak charged unfair penalties: Here's the result

"If there is one person, we don't get in the carpool lane," explained Munson.

Munson showed the I-Team 13 instances of charges he says he disputed in the last year alone.

"How frustrating is that," asked Woodrow.

"Real," said Munson laughing.

He says for the most part the charges have been credited.

"It's just annoying. Really annoying," said Munson.

Munson and his wife insist they do not use the express lane when driving alone.

"No it's just not part of our personalities," said Nancy Munson.

VIDEO: FasTrak has the wrong stationery, sends 'toll violation' notices instead of invoices

Without toll collectors during the pandemic, FasTrak has to bill motorists for cash tolls. The problem: they didn't have the right stationary.

Goodwin offered to have a field operations team go out to the northern end of the 680 corridor in Contra Costa County and run a diagnostic check.

"Make sure there's nothing amiss with the reader," said Goodwin.

He also suggested the Munsons try getting a new FasTrak toll tag.

Though, they're doubtful that will make a difference.

"Why won't you fix your system," asked Munson rhetorically.

As for SellMax, Goodwin offered to work with the company but also said the number of issues likely reflects their large inventory.

"It's volume of vehicles is going to be greater than the average bear," said Goodwin.

With approximately 120 million vehicle crossing the seven state owned toll bridges alone annually, Goodwin maintains the system works "very well"

While those who say they're mistakenly charged have a different view.

"I just think it's not right," said Pour.

Goodwin said he'll put in the request for the diagnostic check on 680 by the end of this week. If you get an invoice or charge that's questionable, you can dispute it by phone, online or even in person by going to 375 Beale Street in San Francisco.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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