E-ZPass charged some NJ drivers at truck rate when in car

At the top of an account statement from E-ZPass were three words in a large, bold font, all in capitals: “PLEASE READ CAREFULLY.”

Luckily, David Lerer did.

The Teaneck resident discovered three errant charges — to the tune of more than $300 — in the past 11 months.

Lerer, who drives a Hyundai Tucson and a BMW, was dinged with truck tolling rates instead of the rates for automobiles on three separate occasions when he crossed the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge.

Instead of being charged $12.75 or $9.88, he received bills for $140 on one occasion last May, $80 last July and $91.75 in April.

Story continues below photo gallery.

The same thing happened to his daughter, who lives at a different address and has her own E-ZPass account for her vehicles. Her account was incorrectly charged $37.75 while crossing the upper level of the George Washington Bridge last April and $80 while crossing the Goethals Bridge last May.

Lerer and his daughter have resolved all five of the incorrect charges and received reimbursements to their accounts, but Lerer is concerned about having it happen again — and whether it's happening to others.

“I’m just one person,” Lerer said. “Can you imagine the thousands that it’s happening to?”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bistate agency that owns and operates the George Washington and Goethals bridges, plus two other bridges and two tunnels, identified 1,891 overcharge tolling instances between June 2022 and June 2023. More than 122 million vehicles were tolled on Port Authority crossings in 2023, making the number of errors caught a tiny fraction of a percent of all charges.

In 2000, The Turnpike Authority introduced the E-ZPass toll collection system at 120 of the turnpike's 344 toll lanes. Today, E-ZPass is accepted in all lanes at all 30 plazas.

“While tolling errors are exceedingly rare, we understand how inconvenient they can be to a paying customer who is doing the right thing," said Lenis Valens, a Port Authority spokeswoman. "We continue to work with our teams to follow up on these cases to ensure that our tolling systems are charging drivers accurately.”

In addition to customers such as Lerer who noticed the errors and disputed the charges, Port Authority staff members and Kapsch, the agency’s roadside system provider, conduct bi-weekly and monthly audits, leakage assessments and other monitoring to catch errors like this.

One central question is how these errors occur.

“That should be impossible,” New Jersey state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said about the errors. “You’ve got to wonder how that’s happening. Your E-ZPass is attached to a car. They know what it is.”

Myriad reasons for tolling errors

The Port Authority said there are myriad reasons why the error can occur. One example is when cars and trucks are passing under the E-ZPass scanners close together — a common occurrence during rush hours, when traffic is often bumper-to-bumper, or if a driver is tailgating or switching lanes under the gantries. In those cases, the scanners misjudge the vehicle length and charge the wrong amount.

But that doesn’t explain why a transponder — which is associated with a specific vehicle when the account is registered — would receive a toll rate for a longer vehicle with more axles that isn’t associated with the transponder, O’Scanlon said.

Sen Declan O'Scanlon Jr. is shown at a Senate Budget and Appropriations hearing in Mahwah. Tuesday, March 21, 2023

“This is an insufficient response. Each transponder typically has the vehicle registered with the transponder … why is the system second-guessing that?” asked O’Scanlon, who has sponsored legislation to correct E-ZPass issues in the past. “The system needs to be improved one way or another.”

Tolling errors are not unique to the Port Authority.

“If a vehicle is in close proximity to a truck that just got identified, once in a great while instead of picking up the transponder in the truck, if the car is close, it has picked up that car transponder,” Peter Alviti Jr., director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, told the Providence Journal and Hummel Report in 2021.

Similar issue on parkway

Over a nine-day period in September 2022, 4,000 automobile drivers a day were incorrectly charged truck rates when passing through an E-ZPass lane on the Garden State Parkway at the Great Egg Toll Plaza, and they eventually received refunds from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. That incident stemmed from a sagging cable that partially blocked a sensor.

A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority did not provide answers to questions about whether it has had recent errant truck tolling charges on automobiles, such as those experienced at the Port Authority.

The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission had around 86,000 truck overcharges on automobiles from February to July 2022 after the commission staff discovered a damaged piece of toll equipment, which caused certain cars to be dinged with truck tolls.

Errors like these, which can be hard to notice on lengthy E-ZPass billing statements where there are also correct charges, could be a cause for concern for some New Jersey drivers with the approach of congestion pricing, the new tolling program the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to start in June to charge drivers to enter Manhattan below 60th Street.

New Jersey drivers will have at least two E-ZPass charges every time they drive into midtown Manhattan starting in June — one for a Port Authority crossing, including the Lincoln or Holland tunnel, and the other for the MTA’s congestion pricing toll.

The MTA has touted its increased enforcement efforts against drivers attempting to skirt paying tolls, but an agency spokesperson declined to comment on whether the agency has had to correct tolling errors at its nine crossings.


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