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NYS Exposed: Audit finds it can be difficult to collect on cashless tolling

November 28, 2017 11:37 PM

Cashless tolling is the future: State's like Massachusetts have already gone cashless in an effort to ease congestion and lower costs. But a recent audit by the state comptroller is raising doubt about its ability to collect.

"Long-term, it's efficient, the initial cost is significant," Governor Andrew Cuomo explained. "We'll phase it in, but we'll phase it in a way that we can afford."

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Governor Cuomo says cashless tolling is in the cards for the Thruway in upstate.

"I see the person there handing out, personally handing a ticket to the car, I scratch my head and say this makes no sense," says Tim Trausch, Thruway traveler.

For Trausch, the move would be about saving taxpayer money. The state Thruway Authority spent more than $35 million for its 1,200-plus toll collectors last year.

"The Thruway is unique in the fact that they've regressed in the way that they cover their costs, because it's got to be more expensive for that person then machine," says Trausch.

But a comptroller's audit released just last week is calling that belief into question.

"They send the bill out and people ignore the bill," says Bob Mehroff, audit manager. "Some of the people were using the bridge every day and not paying the toll. Those can mount up pretty quickly."

The audit examined the cashless tolling system on one of MTA'S bridges in New York City. It found over four years, that MTA lost out on about $11 million in unpaid tolls and another $72 million in unpaid fines and fees. And the audit manager says it's not a problem unique to MTA.

"I think it's in the nature of cashless tolling," says Mehroff. "It's the same process here that you would find anywhere else -- The Port Authority or the Thruway."

Where's the majority of the money going? The comptroller says MTA is writing it off. If a driver is willing to pay the original toll, the agency typically agrees to waive the fines and fees. It's an incentive to get drivers to pay the toll.

"The amount of money being waived is significant enough for us to be, as auditors, to say, 'Is this really a disincentive to not pay the bill,'" says Mehroff, "or is it, are we going too far?"

Despite the millions going uncollected, MTA says last year combined tolls and fees revenue at the bridge was 104 percent of the original tolls.

"They have not lost any money over what they would have collected if there was a guy in the booth taking $5 from each car that went through," says Mehroff.

MTA says new technology will continue to make collecting toll money easier. So, as cashless tolling begins to be implemented upstate, starting at the Grand Island Bridge near Buffalo, News10NBC will continue to monitor the how much money comes in.

Credits

Brett Davidsen

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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