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

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Wednesday, August 3, 2022 1:25AM
EMBED <>More Videos

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

COLTON, Wash. (KGO) -- If you cross a Bay Area bridge without FasTrak, a camera will snap a photo of your license plate and mail you a bill for the toll. But sometimes, the bill goes to the wrong driver.

Among the latest is a woman living a thousand miles away, who hasn't been to the Bay Area in forty years. How could FasTrak get it so wrong?

Cynthia Freyer lives in a tiny town up in Washington state. The website for the town, Colton, shows a village surrounded by miles of grain fields and farms.

So when Freyer got a bill to pay a bridge toll, she was totally mystified.

"When I saw it, I was initially quite confused," she said.

RELATED: Changing amounts of money auto-withdrawn for FasTrak accounts vex drivers

Freyer only drives about as far as the next town over to get her groceries and gas.

So it was puzzling when she got this ticket, from a thousand miles away.

"Well obviously surprised and befuddled. I thought, 'How did this happen?'" she said.

It was a toll invoice from FasTrak, saying she had crossed the San Mateo Bridge on the morning of June 17, and now she had to pay the $7 toll.

"I haven't been to San Francisco since probably 40 years ago, so it was surprising I could get a ticket and not even be there," Freyer said.

VIDEO: Bay Area woman ticketed for using FasTrak lane when she didn't; still had to pay fine

At first she thought it was a scam. She says she's never been on a toll bridge in her life.

"No, never, never, never, never. And I certainly don't know where the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge is," she said.

But she went online, and found the FasTrak information was real.

So why did she get a ticket way up here in Colton?

"It says avoid penalties, pay by the due date of July 27," Freyer said, reading the notice. "It's only $7 which must be pretty reasonable for San Francisco."

She was surprised to hear that $7 only paid for one trip across the bridge

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

"Oh my god. I'm staying here. I mean, isn't your gas tax and other taxes going towards roads and transportation?" she said.

Freyer lives in a place where there are no tolls, no red lights, not even a stop sign.

"We have a little bridge here that goes over the creek. There is that," Freyer laughed.

Her town has just 430 residents -- living amid hills of wheat -- where there isn't even a grocery store.

"We have a library that's about the size of my bathroom," she said.

RELATED: Overcharged at the register? Bay Area consumer finds shelf prices don't match scanned price at store

There are no toll roads or parking meters. No one worries about fines and fees. Freyer says she can't imagine living where one must pay to park a car or cross a bridge.

"It's bad for the psyche, don't you think? You should come up here, it's so peaceful," she said.

Freyer said at the end of the day she sits by a creek with a fishing pole. She left urban life behind decades ago, but now the FasTrak ticket was pulling her back in.

"I allegedly went over the bridge at 10:40 a.m.," she said, referring to the notice.

Freyer found 7 On Your Side's stories about FasTrak online. We found out why she got that invoice.

FasTrak tells us that someone else with a Washington plate did cross the San Mateo Bridge that morning. The camera read the plate, but the result came back "uncertain," so it went to manual review. A clerk had to decide if the letter in the middle of the license plate was an "O"... or a "D."

A license plate photographed by FasTrack on June 17 is what caused Cynthia Freyer of Washington to receive a toll ticket of $7

If you look at the picture, can you tell?

Freyer's plate has a D. But the FasTrak clerk made the wrong call, so Freyer got the mistaken invoice.

The actual driver didn't.

However, after we inquired, FasTrak was quick to see the error and waived the fee. Freyer was impressed

"It was the best government experience ever. Can you help with my taxes?" she asked.

FasTrak told 7 On Your Side about 2% of the photos the cameras take give an "uncertain" result, called "low confidence." Those all go to manual review, and of those, 2% are wrong. Multiply that by millions of cars without FasTrak -- mistakes are bound to happen.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live