- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - The amount of uncollected tolls on a New York bridge skyrocketed after electronic E-ZPass systems replaced all cash toll lanes, according to a published report.

Cash lanes were eliminated on the Henry Hudson Bridge in November 2012 as an experiment with cashless tolling, which transportation officials foresee becoming increasingly common as a way to ease traffic jams. But it also appears to have eased toll evasion, according to figures The Journal News (http://lohud.us/1gcXXgK) reported in a story published Saturday.

Some $1.6 million in tolls went unpaid from November 2012 through September 2013, compared to $180,810 from November 2011 through October 2012, the newspaper said.

“That’s not fair,” said driver Eric Schoen of Yonkers, an E-ZPass user who frequently crosses the Henry Hudson Bridge, which connects the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. “I’m the good citizen who is paying, and some people are not paying.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge, declined to comment on the figures but noted that traffic tends to be smoother without drivers waiting on lines at toll plazas or maneuvering to get into cash lanes.

E-ZPass transponders pay tolls electronically. Drivers who go through without transponders have their license plates photographed and are sent bills in the mail.

But the Journal-News says one-third of those bills are disregarded. After 90 days, they are given to a collection agency to pursue, the MTA said.

Over the past five years, a total of $150 million in tolls have gone unpaid statewide, deputy state transportation secretary Karen Rae said.

As officials plan for more cashless tolling - cash lanes are to be axed at the Tappan Zee Bridge next year, for example - some say they need more power to crack down on toll evaders. State Thruway Executive Director Thomas Madison told lawmakers at a January budget hearing that 99.7 percent of Thruway tolls are paid now, but that could be “reduced significantly” if cash tolls are eliminated without giving enforcers more authority.

Ideas include allowing vehicle registration suspensions for repeat toll dodgers and allowing them to be charged with theft of services, a misdemeanor.

Some lawmakers oppose cashless tolling. Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, a Greenburgh Democrat, notes that bills might be sent to incorrect addresses.

___

Information from: The Journal News, http://www.lohud.com