TxDOT's 90% amnesty gets $767k, 1.25% of outstanding tolls & fees - now to courts

December 3, 2009

TxDOT's three month-long 90%-amnesty program on outstanding toll penalty fees garnered about 1.25% of scofflaw debt - $767k out of $61.6m. The recovery of unpaid tolls was much higher - $265k out of $3.2m or 8.3%. Recovery of violation fees was $501k out of $58.4m or about 0.9%.

10,580 people who took advantage of the 90% forgiveness program represented just over 7% of about 150,000 people with serious toll and penalty debts.

The program was officially termed a Toll Violation Recovery Program and offered to forgive 90% of outstanding toll penalties in return for:

- payment of the unpaid tolls

- payment of 10% penalty fees

- signing up for a TxTag electronic toll account, and

- remaining in good standing on that account for a year

The partial amnesty program ran from August 30 through December 1.

Interestingly there was a huge rush on the last day of the 92-day long program and even in the final hours.

Reports TxDOT: "The TxTag Customer Service Center (CSC) in North Austin drew large crowds during the final day of the program. Over 26 percent of the 10,580 customers that chose to pay under the program were served by customer service representatives on Monday alone. The TxTag toll-free phone number was over its 150-call capacity for most of the evening before it shut down at 11pm, and customers were served in-person at the customer service center until after 2am Tuesday, despite the center's stated 7pm closing time."

Most of TxDOT's tolling and the toll violations are associated with the new central Texas (Austin area) tollroads - SH130, SH45, Loop 1. They began tolling the 105km (65 miles) in segments as they opened from the fall of 2006 through the spring of 2008. The program also covered Loop 49 in Tyler in far northeast Texas.

Recovery was split about 2 to 1 discounted penalty fees to tolls. See table nearby.

Mark Tomlinson, TxDOT Turnpike Authority Division director is quoted as saying he was "pleased to see so many people trying to do the right thing and pay their tolls Monday."

He said he was proud his staff "went the extra mile to provide great customer service."

The partial amnesty program was an effort to collect before the Turnpike Division of TxDOT takes its first violators to court to collect.

Tomlinson in an official statement said: "We don't like having to take the step of filing in court to collect, but if you choose to use a toll road, paying your tolls is a matter of state law. I believe we've done as much as we can, within the bounds of bond covenants and state law to encourage customers to pay on time or to take care of delinquent bills."

In the new year TxDOT will begin court filings to collect tolls and fees still owed - about $3m in tolls and around $55m in violation fees. They say that non-payers will incur additional fines and court fees of $350 or more on each toll violation.

Once a court filing is made on a customer's account, the TxTag customer service representatives can no longer discuss payment, and the non-payer is in the hands of a judge.

TxDOT is nevertheless urging those who missed the amnesty to avoid the $350 extra and the court filings by calling the customer service center (888 468 9824 7am to 7pm weekdays, Sat 9am to 6pm) to discuss a deal on their outstanding penalty fees.

Spokesman Karen Amacker tells us that by law TxDOT must collect the full toll due, but it has discretion to waive some penalty fees, and from the beginning of tollroads in Central Texas has been willing to waive up to 50% of those due by motorists in return for opening a TxTag account and remaining in good standing for a year.

"We are not going to give discounts of 90% as we did during the recent three month program but we are always willing to discuss waiving some of the penalty fees with customers who show a willingess to pay their past tolls and establish a toll account," Amacker told us.

Most of the unpaid tolls occur in open road and all-electronic toll lanes and at unstaffed ramps, because it is rare for motorists to drive past a toll collector in a cash lane.  However in the TxDOT central Texas network (130, 45N, Loop 1) only 10% of tolls are cash. 74% are by transponder (TxTag or other transponders from Dallas and Houston) while 16% are camera or video tolls called "Pay by Mail". There is no cash collected in Tyler on Loop 49.

TxDOT's toll revenues in the last reported fiscal year ending Aug 2008 were $49m, and in fiscal 2009 ending Aug 31 this year, the first year with almost the whole system open were $59m.

The longterm unpaid tolls of $3m therefore relate to about $110m or so in total tolls collected.

BACKGROUND: The toll business is doing well in central Texas. Regional toller CTRMA is well ahead of traffic and revenues forecasts made at the time their 183A toll road was launched - virtually double.

TxDOT's three tollroad network is also doing better than expected by traffic and revenue studies done by Vollmer/URS back in 2002 during the planning phase.

In FY2009, the 12 months ending Aug31, average weekday traffic measured by toll transactions was 224k vs 169k forecast for this year back in 2002. That's a third higher than forecast.

In the same year actual toll revenue was $58.9m v T&R forecasts for the year of $49.7m, 19% ahead.

Interestingly the downtown-Austin oriented Loop-1, and the area-bypass/east-side peripheral 130Toll are pretty much running to forecast in revenue terms, though traffic is higher than expected.

The big surprise success is 45N an east-west connector that hooks into CTRMA's very successful 183A tollroad in the northwest. 45N is running 90k to 100k average weekday transactions v 58k forecast, about 65% over. Toll revenue for FY2009 was $18m v $12.2m forecast for the year. Cash collection on 45N is only 8%. (CTRMA's 183A to which it is connected is cashless.)

The fact that traffic is above forecast much more than revenue is above forecast suggests either that average toll rates or average trip lengths are less than expected or that violations rates are above forecast, so less is being collected per trip. We're still hoping to get some violations data from TxDOT.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-12-02 REVISION-1 12-03 10:45 REVISION-2 12-03 20:00

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