FOX25 Investigates: More problems for drivers with state's new electronic tolling

BOSTON — The state’s new electronic tolling system – which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars – has been erroneously billing drivers for cars and license plates that don’t belong to them.

Hugh Brower, who drives a Subaru with Connecticut license plates, told FOX25 Investigates he started getting bills in the mail in November at an old business address – tolls racked up on the Tobin Bridge and on the Mass Pike in Newton through MassDOT’s new Pay by Plate system.

But Brower told FOX25 Investigates MassDOT has the wrong guy – he doesn’t own or drive a car with Massachusetts plates.

Despite calling and mailing to dispute the charges, the bills kept coming – totaling $94, including late fees.

“If they don't have the correct data to bill people, then I can imagine that a lot of other people are getting bills for vehicles that they don't own at this point,” said Brower.

FOX25 Investigates called MassDOT about Brower’s case. About two weeks later, the agency finally said it dropped the bogus charges.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen sat down with Stephen Collins, MassDOT’s director of tolling, to discuss the glitches in the new electronic tolling system – including problems FOX25 first uncovered last month.

After FOX25 Investigates’ first report, the state admitted it suddenly started billing people with old, suspended E-ZPass accounts after the switch in the fall to all-electronic tolling – a malfunction that affected as many as 3,800 former E-ZPass customers, including Pat Doherty, who couldn’t get her bogus charges cleared up until FOX25 got involved.

When asked what he would say to drivers who feel like they getting the runaround from MassDOT, Collins said, “We certainly don't want people to have the feeling that they're getting the runaround.”

Collins told FOX25 Investigates mix-ups in the Pay By Plate system could be human error or a mistake by an automatic plate recognition system. But once a person and a plate are linked, drivers could have a tough time stopping new toll bills from piling up.

“When an account is established based on an image of a license plate, we don't go back to the (Registry of Motor Vehicles) each and every time that there's a transaction,” said Collins.

FOX25 tried to help Brower dispute his charges online, but a disclaimer says drivers must “pay your invoice in full” before seeking a refund on bogus charges.

Brower said that policy leaves drivers like him guilty until proven innocent.

“It's not for my car,” said Brower. “The plate doesn't match, so I don't see a reason why I should have to pay it.”

FOX25 Investigates discovered through a public records request that MassDOT has given refunds to nearly 2,500 drivers who have filed tolling disputes since November. During that time, the state has processed nearly 150 million electronic tolls.