How to fight back if overcharged on toll roads

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Harris County Toll Road Authority has refunded a man more than $100 worth of toll road overcharges after road sensors docked him for more axels than he actually had.

"I have been dealing with the Harris County Toll Road Authority for the past 90 days," Brian Whittington told Channel 2 Investigates.

His problem was solved after KPRC 2 News contacted the Harris County Toll Road Authority on his behalf.

“I got the run around. All I heard was, 'Give it 10 business days, we're going to be in contact with you.' And, of course, no one ever called me," Whittington said.

The problem arose when Whittington towed his jet ski on a trailer. The trailer has one axel, but often, he would be charged for two.

“They said they finally figured out why it was doing it, and it was because my license plate was too low, and the sensor was picking it up as another axel,” Whittington said.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority said his problem is not a common one, but they will now manually review his account to make sure he’s being charged properly. Answering his complaint took longer, because the Texas Department of Transportation owns the portion of the Grand Parkway where he often tows his jet ski, but he is billed by the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

The Toll Road Authority said it strives to handle customer services issues more quickly than it did in Whittington’s case.

Customers who are worried about their charges can call the Harris County Toll Road Authority, but they may have to wait if they call during peak call times. Hold times are longest during the lunch time between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and all day on Mondays. The shortest hold times are Fridays. Average wait times overall is more than six minutes.

ACCIDENTAL VIOLATIONS

The represnetative for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, Mary Benton, said her agency wants to work with people who incur a violation accidently.

“We're not some big bad agency, but what often happens is people ignore a violation thinking it is going to go away. So it goes from that first invoice and those fees start accumulating. That's when they end up owing a lot of money," Benton said. "Customers say, ‘The next thing you know I owed all this money.’ But it doesn't happen that way. We work with people who make simple mistakes, but if you are a habitual violator we can't work with you."

Most people don’t blatantly run tolls without paying, she said.

Here are the most common ways drivers get fines:

  • They forget to update EZ tag accounts when they get new credit cards
  • They try to move an EZ tag to another car temporarily, which is not allowed
  • They don’t update their car registration after selling a vehicle

In these cases, the former owner keeps getting charged when a new owner drives the toll road.

"There are times, if they immediately call us, we may be able to waive their fees," Benton said.

If customers can’t get their issue resolved with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, they will be sent to collections and charged an additional $42 fee on top of the $11 violation charge.

For the next 30 days, the collection agency prepares and mails a series of demand letters and tries to call people by phone, the Harris County Toll Road Authority’s website explains.

“If payment isn’t received within 60 days after the collection agency’s efforts have taken place, and if the toll violator is eligible for an administrative hearing, an additional fee is added to the outstanding amount and a hearing is scheduled,” the website says.

“During the administrative hearing process, a judge will listen to arguments presented by the Toll Road Authority and by the toll violator and issue an order of judgment. The order of judgment will indicate the judge's ruling and determine the final amount due. As a part of the ruling, the judge has the option to assess additional fines and costs, flag/block the vehicle registration, or place a boot on the vehicle prohibiting movement until the outstanding tolls and fees are paid,” the toll road authority says.

Click here for more information on violations from the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority.

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