E-ZPass Charge You Fee When It Malfunctions

The Red Tape Chronicles has an interesting story from Kathy Sunato, a Pennsylvania driver who noticed that E-ZPass was charging her strange $5 fees.

It turned out that every time the E-ZPass device couldn’t figure out when she exited the toll road, what is called an “orphan exit,” she was assessed the $5 charge.

To get her $35 refunded, Sunato had to fill out seven different forms, one for each fee. She had only discovered the error in the first place because she checked her bill online. Paper bills cost ezxtra.

If you use E-Zpass, be sure to check online if you’re getting assessed any “orphan” fees, which can arise from low batteries in the device, waving it front of your windshield instead of mounting it, or system errors.

ON E-TOLL ROADS, BEWARE ‘ORPHAN EXIT’ FEE [The Red Tape Chronicles]
(Photo: Phoosh)

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  1. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Ezxtra, eh?

    But seriously, these things are just a bad idea, RFID isn’t exactly what you’d call secure.

  2. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Scratch that last comment, I thought it was one of those RFID keyfobs that you can use at various gas stations.

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Repeat after me, “I will not sign up for anything that takes arbitrary amounts of my money automatically without notifying me or obtaining my explicit consent at time of purchase.”

  4. bnet41 says:

    @speedwell:
    If you use toll roads a lot these things are worth the hassle. The time saved is quite noticeable, and there is no need to deal with making sure you have cash in the car for it. Also, there is often some discount for using the EZ-Pass.

  5. winnabago says:

    In Massachusetts, you can get various resident discounts by having their “Fast Lane”. Also, there is a deduction on the state income tax form based on how much you spend on tolls and how much distance you cover through the Fast Lane system. It’s worth a couple hundred bucks for me annually, and I would otherwise have to save reciepts and figure out the mileage between exits on the Pike. Sometimes being paranoid about privacy just isn’t worth it.

  6. DeeJayQueue says:

    There’s a discount for EZpass when you drive over the bridges X times a month.

    Plus, in many places they’re installing high-speed or full speed ezpass lanes. I haven’t had one in a while, but from what I remember you can set it not to autobill your card. You put $20 on it and when that starts running low the lights in the toll road flash yellow instead of green, letting you know.

    I didn’t know they had batteries in them, I thought they were a passive device, like a larger version of the speedpass keyfobs that Mobil used to have.

  7. Nighthawk Foo says:

    Fast Lane and EZ-Pass are the same system, just branded differently.

  8. daleyt says:

    Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania there is no discount for using EZ-Pass on the turnpike. In fact, they charge you a $3.00 service fee every year for the convenience of making things easier for them. I recently had the same problem as described in the article, but I was able to clear up the situation with a phone call to the service center.

    Another bonus from the PA Turnpike is that they charge your credit card in $30 chunks that they get to hang on to interest free until you use up the toll money. A nice convenience, but definitely a money maker for the turnpike

  9. katurian says:

    I had a similar problem with ez-pass. I had extra passes in the anti-static bags they provide in my glove box. Every one in awhile they’d get read though. So I had these mysterious charges where the time between entering and exiting a toll would be 5 or 6 days. I wrote them a letter documenting how it just wasn’t reasonable. Still haven’t heard back. From my experience once ex-pass gets your money it’s near impossible to get a refund. I’m going to call them now that I’m reminded of it.

  10. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    In NJ (on the Parkway) there are little signs that let you know the EZPass was paid. So I guess you would see if it didn’t register. Then again, I fly through them so fast that I dont get a chance to read it, I just see that if flashes some text at me. I should slow down :(

  11. bonzombiekitty says:

    @AlteredBeast:

    You should slow down. I got a warning from EZPass before that I was going through the tolls too fast and if I kept doing it, they’d cancel my service.

    But I love EZPass. The only down side is driving through the Garden State Parkway in rush hour and has gotten backed up at the tolls, so many people use EZPass that it’s faster to go through the normal lanes.

  12. yg17 says:

    I bitch about St. Louis a lot, and how our roads suck and our drivers are even worse, but then I see crap like this, and realize we’re one of the very few metropolitain areas who don’t have a single toll road and am very thankful for that.

  13. Blueskylaw says:

    ATM’s. First a money saver for the banks, now a money maker. EZ Pass. First you get a discount, then no discount, now you pay a monthly fee. As soon as they start charging for online bill paying I’m going back to mailing my payments in.
    Did I get off the topic?

  14. anams0184 says:

    The NTTA has it set up where you have $40 on the tag and when it gets down to $10 the lights start to flash yellow rather than the green light to let you know that your account is getting low. It’s pretty darn convienent when you live in the city and basically every other highway now is a toll road and when you travel a lot bc the airports now take the toll tag and so you dont have to wait in the lines to pay with cash or anything. There’s also the discount you get by signing up to have one. I live and breathe by my toll tag here in Texas

  15. MeOhMy says:

    Yeah they love to screw you on things like this. I’ve heard some horror stories about the batteries going dead on the tags. The entire system is rigged to get as far up your butt as possible when it breaks down:

    1. V-toll (a “convenience” where if your tag misreads such as in this case) is $5 even if the actual toll would have been far less. Which it usually is.

    2. Notification takes DAYS/WEEKS. No phone call. If you don’t realize your tag is not working and you use it daily, you could have racked up a couple hundred dollars in V-tolls!

    3. V-toll for EVERY GATE YOU PASS – if your card goes out on a long trip and you don’t realize it, you can really get jimmied.

    4. No status indicator on the tag. If they were not hoping to screw people, there would be someway to determine if your tag was dead without driving through a toll and getting charged.

    My own personal story – At around the same time, one of my credit cards expired and one of my credit cards was replaced because Citi said it may have been compromised. I went into the online system and updated BOTH credit cards (you can have a backup). I must have screwed up and only updated the backup – the primary was now invalid.

    I then drove from Philly to Boston and back. On my return trip, 01/01/07, I noticed that in MA the yellow “give us a call” light came on instead of the green light. When I got to NJ where they have digital readouts, the readout actually said “Call Cust. Serv.” It did NOT give ANY indication that I should stop using my tag.

    2 weeks later, I got 2 separate violations from NJ – one for the GSP, one for the Turnpike, demanding the $1.50 or so in tolls plus a $25.00 “administration fee.” So $50 total.

    Now the situation was easy to resolve – the violation notices came with a check box where you give your tag number and sign an affirmation that you really did have an account in good standing at the time of the violation and send a check for just the actual toll. I mailed these forms in and shortly thereafter got a notice saying that my appeals were granted.

    I then got a letter from EZPass kindly informing me that one of my credit cards was invalid.

    Logging on to update it, I review my statement:
    On 12/27, my account went below the threshold for automatic replensihemnt. It tried to replenish using my primary card (the invalid one) and failed.

    It did not bother replenishing using the VALID backup card for 2 WEEKS – on the way home the account ran dry! Idiots.

  16. beyond says:

    Yep! We use EZTag rarely, but once we got a letter in the mail with a $45 fine for 2 violations. Since the tag never left the car, these are obviously malfunctions! A quick call got it straightened out though. Having her fill out forms is ridiculous. Just don’t take the toll road anymore.

  17. ancientsociety says:

    We have the same sort of thing here in IL (I-Pass). I just don’t understand why people feel it’s a good idea to give gov’t the ability to track your movements just to save a few minutes on the tollway.

    I’ve known people who had I-Pass in the past and were issued speeding tickets in the mail because the time it took them to go from one toll to the next was too short (=”speeding”). I’m not sure if the state police still do it but that’s just creepy.

  18. jeffj-nj says:

     
     
    EZPass is the greatest car accessory ever. EVER!

    Absolutely everyone on the road should have one, and those who don’t shouldn’t be allowed to use that road. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

    That having been said, if you’re getting errant charges on your EZPass bill, you’re going through the gates too quickly. Furthermore, as an EZPass customer, you are NOT responsible for the $25 using-an-EZPass-lane-without-being-a-customer fee. Don’t pay it.

    You’ll get a bill in the mail which says something to the effect of, “You drove through an EZPass lane even though you’re not an EZPass customer. This is not allowed. Because of this, you owe us $27.50, where $25 is the fee for having been wrong, and $2.50 is the toll money you never gave us.”

    There is no need to fill out a form. None at all. I can tell you this from experience. Simply write on the letter, “I am an EZPass customer and my tag number is 0123456789. I’m sorry it wasn’t read correctly. Here is the money I owe you.” and include a check for the $2.50 that you rightfully owe. Nothing more will ever come of it.

    Plan B? Slow down. This is the method I’ve been using for some time now, and I can tell you that it’s quite a bit easier (but costs precisely the same).

    Oh, but Jeff, you say. This woman didn’t get a bill in the mail. Her tag was just charged.

    Yes. Yes, it was. And do you know why? Because the system could not determine where she left the highway because the gates didn’t read her tag because she didn’t…

    (say it with me now, class)

    …slow down.

  19. lilyHaze says:

    There are some tolls where you can go regular speed limits (40-50mph), but the ones that I go on require that you go 10-15 mph.

    I haven’t been charged anything, though they do end up holding some money “interest-free.”

    These things are a time saver. I only use mine when I go to my parents (about once a month). I always smile as I whiz on by while the suckers are waiting to pay in cash. I just recently saved at least 20 minutes when there was a backup (unusual for the time I went).

  20. The Bigger Unit says:

    @AlteredBeast: Yeah, we have a version of ‘EZ-Pass’ in Canada for bridge tolls…I’ve flown through so fast before that I hammered the gate arm. Fortunately it was covered in foam and just bounced off my car, but all the bells that go off were sort of embarrassing though…

    I just kept driving and hoped I didn’t get a ticket in the mail.

  21. radioboy says:

    Here in NJ I believe they’ve added a system that when the violation camera snaps your plate, it crosschecks it against the cars registered to EZPass. If you’re a subscriber, it just deducts the toll. If it happens several times, you get a letter to check your tag.

  22. design_chick says:

    @beyond: For some people (in NJ especially), its impossible to avoid the toll road… unless you want to add 2 hours onto your already long commute!

    Sidenote: I got a speeding ticket in Washington DC in the mail because a camera on the side of the road snapped my license plate. Scary.

  23. jeff303 says:

    @ancientsociety: Using an I-Pass on my (very short) daily commute that includes 88 and 355 saves me about 10 minutes and $2 per day. Worth it in my opinion. And if Agent Smith is ever chasing you, there’s nothing stopping you from leaving it at home and using cash instead.

  24. Indecision says:

    @jeffj-nj: “…the gates didn’t read her tag because she didn’t…(say it with me now, class)…slow down.

    The speed limits through the tolls are for safety, not the sake of the readers. The readers can grab your tag at up to something like 130mph, maybe more. This is deliberate, so people can’t dodge tolls by speeding.

  25. aparsons says:

    I’m surprised that states haven’t cashed in issuing violations based on the time it takes to travel between two tollbooths. Let’s say that two tollbooths are 100 miles apart and you make the trip in 1 hour. One can assume that you were traveling 100 MPH – and if you use EZ PASS, it seems quite simple to send you a violation. I’m just surprised that the state governments haven’t started doing this yet….

  26. winnabago says:

    @Indecision: This is true – New York is putting in some 55mph lanes upstate on the thruway. At some point they have to remove the green light feedback system, because it would be a big problem if someone saw a yellow light and started backing up. This happens all the time in the 5mph lanes I go through. Just go already! It’s not worth causing a major accident.

  27. Auntie M. says:

    I love my I-Pass (Illinois). They have several lanes where you don’t have to stop at all, and if you have one, you pay only half of the regular toll.

  28. Indecision says:

    @aparsons: “I’m just surprised that the state governments haven’t started doing this yet….”

    I believe most of the states (I know it’s true of MA, and I think of NJ as well) agreed specifically not to do this. People probably wouldn’t sign up, otherwise! The worst they’ll do is issue you a fine (not a moving violation, not even a ticket, just a fine) if you speed through a toll booth.

  29. The Meathead says:

    @jeffj-nj: 2 points:

    #1 The toll authorities will NEVER turn away a customer because they don’t have EZPass or something similar.

    #2 There is no reason why it should be required. This country has survived a long time without EZPass, and we’ll continue to do so. I don’t have a credit card, nor will I be told what roads I should travel, as long as I possess the standard toll fee.

  30. azntg says:

    Wow, it definitely must’ve sucked for Kathy. Maybe she should demand that her local issuing EZ-Pass authorize replace her tag free of charge for malfunctioning repeatedly.

    In New York State, I think legislature was passed that made collecting administrative fees for EZ-Pass (which for about a year was $1/mo.) illegal. So, you get to receive toll discounts (at certain roads, if you happen to live in an eligible area or bulk discount) and receive the service more or less free of charge.

  31. MeOhMy says:

    Tip: EZ pass is EZ pass – if one authority is charging an annual fee, get your tag from a different authority.

  32. Sudonum says:

    @aparsons:
    According to ancientsociety they already have.

  33. nequam says:

    @winnabago: I hear you! There is nothing quite so satisfying as breezing through the Weston tolls on the Pike Eastbound while the non-FastLaners sit in lines.

  34. Buran says:

    @yg17: Watch out, that new bridge they’ve been promising us for years might have tolls on it, it’s one thing that’s been suggested.

    They still can’t agree on how to do a new bridge, though. This coming from the people who have graffiti all over the Tamm Ave. bridge, which isn’t even FINISHED yet.

  35. Buran says:

    @jeffj-nj: Uh, I think the “get off the road if you don’t want to allow someone access to your financial information” attitude is uncalled for. It’s a public road.

  36. Spamboy says:

    For all of the people complaining about their experiences with RFID tags like EZ-Pass, know that there are probably a significant number of others who are having no issues — including myself. Any experience consumer should be smart enough to check their statements each and every month, in order to ensure they’re not being ripped off (purposefully or accidentally).

    At least here in north Texas, a simple, friendly call to NTTA usually gets things fixed up without a problem. No need to go to an office, wait in line, fill out forms, etc. It’s quite pleasant.

  37. SJActress says:

    We have EZ Tag in Houston, and on one of our toll roads, it’s required. No cash accepted, just the tag. I guess that throws out the “I’ll just bring cash” if you happen to need to take that road!

  38. jeffj-nj says:

     
     
    Okay, so maybe the “get EZPass or go home” sentiment was a little
    strong. Possibly the express highway can be for EZPass customers only
    instead of the whole road? I dunno.

    See, the problem is that I despise with a passion the people who ride
    all the way up in the free moving EZPass lane, and then try to cut in
    to the non-EZPass lane right at the front of the line. These people are
    assholes, of course, so the people who patiently waited in line like
    decent human beings never want to let them in. So now, there’s just
    some dude stuck diagonally infront of me, a legit customer, who can’t get to the booth.

    If the person in front of me had EZPass, that would solve the problem.
    If the person in front of me wasn’t an asshole, of course, it wouldn’t
    even be
    a problem because he wouldn’t be there. But, if more people in general
    had EZPass, the cash lines wouldn’t be so long and this asshole
    wouldn’t feel the need to cut all of them. So, really, even if you’re
    patiently waiting, still, if you don’t have EZPass, you’re not part of
    the solution, and therefore are part of the problem (even if to a significantly less extent).

    So that’s the logic in my head as to why everyone should have EZPass.
    But, truth be told, it’s about more than making my life less stressful.
    It’ll make yours less stressful too. EZPass rocks. There is no “con” to
    it that could ever possibly outweigh its “pro”s.

  39. jeffj-nj says:

    @SJActress:

    That is awesome!

  40. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @aparsons: Yeah something similar happened to me. I was riding with a co-worker and we were going from Oklahoma City to Tulsa on the Cimmaron(sp?) Turnpike. The road is a toll but you only pay when you get on and off not inbetween. Well we got on a little outside of OKC and got off in Tulsa. When we got to the end we were told to pull over and a State trooper gave hima ticket cause they said we went between the tolls too fast? I think the ticket was like $190, which sucks cause they dont know how fast we were really going. Come on its bad enough you have to pay to get into Tulsa, heck they should make you pay to leave and you get in for free..:)

  41. d0x says:

    @speedwell: It doesnt, you put money into an account and they take it from that. You can have $5 in there if thats all you want and you can check every deduction up to the very second it was taken out, what toll, what toll lane etc.

  42. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @jeffj-nj:

    That’s nice, my city got rid of toll roads in the 80′s, so you guys have fun with that.

  43. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @Spamboy:

    It’s not so much problems more like how easy it is to rip RFID device off at a distance.

  44. Geekybiker says:

    @Auntie M.:

    Its not half the regular toll. The Ipass tolls were DOUBLED for non-ipass users. Just because they raised rates elsewhere doesnt mean ipass is a discount.

  45. Auntie M. says:

    @Geekybiker:
    You’re right! I had totally forgotten that! Thanks.

  46. Maurs says:

    Toll roads: just one of the many reasons to fly a luxury helicopter to work.

  47. weave says:

    @The Meathead: #1 The toll authorities will NEVER turn away a customer because they don’t have EZPass or something similar.

    There’s an exit on the PA Tpke north of Philly that will only take EZ-Pass. No EZ-Pass means you can’t get on or off at that exit.

  48. Charles Duffy says:

    @jeffj-nj: There’s also the world in which nobody has EZ-Pass, because there aren’t any toll roads. I never saw one once until working in the Bay Area, and even then very rarely. I think I’ve paid a toll for driving on a specific road… oh, about five times in my life. And I feel gypped each time. WTF are my property and gas taxes for?

    Anyhow, I hope you won’t consider me an ass for not having an EZ-Pass on the very, very rare occasion that I drive somewhere with a toll road. Don’t need ‘em, don’t use ‘em, like it that way.

    (Hopefully that won’t change too quickly; we actually have some toll roads in the Austin area now, but none anywhere I need to be… and the few times when I’ve wanted to visit a friend up north, I get off and drive on the frontage road; paying a private company indefinitely for a road that state funds were used to construct is not anything I’m about to do).

  49. Rusted says:

    @jeffj-nj: Still got mine but no toll roads down here.

    @Charles Duffy: The Greenway that connects to the Dulles Toll Road. The only time it costs money is when it’s used. Bet it’s cheaper then the public roads. I’d like to see all highways privatized.

  50. bostoniannyc says:

    Re: “Fast Lane and EZ-Pass are the same system, just branded differently.”

    Fast lane and EZ pass may be the “same thing” but the tax laws in MA and NY are not. Hence the reference to the discounts that are Fastlane specific. All tags are not created equal for each state. The fact that EZ pass speed limits are slower than Fastlane in MA is a whole other story.

    The new tax laws in MA that let you write off even more of your tolls make it far superior.

    Ever seen the cash only line coming off 84 into the MassPike? Zipping by that one on a regular basis makes it all worth it.

    Put your EZPass on a credit card not debit and this will also solve (some) problems re: fees.

  51. Canadian Impostor says:

    Different states have different EZ Pass fees. You can sign up for another state’s tags. In CT they want $1/mo for the privilege of using EZ Pass, plus they charge you for your statement.

    I signed up for a Maryland tag, no fees, free EZ pass tag.

  52. ManiacDan says:

    I know this story is old, but I’d like to chime in and give you guys this little piece of information:
    Toll roads here in Dallas TX are sometimes EZ-Pass ONLY. (It’s called “TollTag” here by the way). Anyway, they’ve conveniently started “construction” projects near tollway exits that close the cash booths but leave the TollTag booths intact. In short, I had to get a TollTag in order to actually exit the highway near my office, instead of going all the way past the city and taking a different highway back. Some people are just running through the gates without paying, but eventually the city will ticket them I’m sure.
    No amount of arguing about the legality of not accepting cash will work here I don’t think, they’re machines and aren’t subject to that sort of rule. As far as I know anyway.