City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo and Minority Whip Joseph Borelli today announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will give E-ZPass customers who do not have enough funding in their account to pay a toll at a MTA bridge a 10-day grace period to replenish the funds, and will also set up a customer service unit dedicated to helping Staten Island residents with their E-ZPass issues, including residency certifications and toll disputes. The new measures have been put in place in response to a letter sent by Council Members Matteo and Borelli urging the MTA to fix various problems with the new cashless tolling system on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
“Cashless tolling offers speed and convenience for Staten Islanders returning home on the Verrazano, but it has unfortunately created an expensive, frustrating mess for too many commuters. I am hopeful these measures will fix some of these problems and the promise of this technology will be fully realized and help ease the commutes for thousands of residents. I am grateful to MTA Bridges and Tunnels President Fulton and his team for responding to our request for assistance. I urge my constituents to contact my office if any other issues arise, and we will continue to work with the MTA to try to resolve them,”Matteo said.
“A straightforward solution to a straightforward problem. The low balance grace period, new customer service unit, which will be dedicated to the unique challenges faced by Staten Island residents, is going to be a huge help to our constituents. I’d like to thank Minority Leader Matteo for his leadership on this issue and MTA Bridges & Tunnels President Fulton for providing a solution that is fair to Staten Islanders,” Borelli said.
Many Staten Island commuters have been contacting the Council members’ offices to complain about problems with the cashless tolling system on the Verrazano since was implemented in July 2017.
In many cases, the new EZPass sensors have been registering low account balances (unbeknownst to the account holder), which were insufficient to pay the toll. Others were complaining the sensors were not recognizing the E-ZPass at all and thus do not register payment at the time they cross the bridge. As a result, these commuters have been receiving notices of violation from the MTA that include a charge for the full cash toll of $17 as well as a fine of $100 for each putative offense. Because many Staten Island commuters traverse the Verrazano every weekday to commute to Manhattan, it was not uncommon for them to receive notices of violation in excessive of $500 before they are even aware of the problem.
Other E-ZPass holders who had been taking advantage of the carpool discount prior to cashless tolling were also being charged the full $17 cash toll when they crossed the bridge, rather than the E-ZPass rate of $11.52, or the Staten Island resident discount rate of $5.50. The difference between the cash toll and the carpool discount of $3.00 were not credited back to their accounts for weeks, after E-ZPass personnel have visually verified the number of occupants in the vehicle for each trip via video.
In their letter, Matteo and Borelli specifically asked the MTA to provide motorists “with ample opportunity to pay the tolls before they issue fines,” and called the response by MTA customer service to the numerous complaints “inadequate.”
“We strongly request that your agency fully investigate these problems, determine the cause, and propose some solutions,” they wrote.
In addition to the above measures to address these problems, the MTA has been conducting a public awareness campaign regarding the proper usage of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane and the new “switchable mode” EZPass tags for Staten Island Carpool Plan customers, including mailings. The agency is reminding carpool customers to switch the EZPass tag to “HOV mode” before accessing the HOV lane. This allows special high-definition cameras to take photos of the vehicle and will register the carpool discount if the vehicle has at three occupants.
Both the MTA and the Council members also urge all E-ZPass account holders to sign up for free mobile alerts to receive important E-ZPass account notifications via text, including low-balance alerts. To learn more, visit this link: https://www.e-zpassny.com/en/faq/mobile_alerts.shtml