E-ZPass application backlog taking its toll


Barbara Arpante thought she did everything right when she signed up for E-ZPass last month.

The Pittsfield resident went to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, where she opened an account and received her transponder. She waited more than a week, as she was told, before using it to travel to Boston on the Massachusetts Turnpike earlier this month.

Then came the notice from E-ZPass that she had incurred $100 in fines — one $50 fine each way for unauthorized use of the electronic toll collection system.

"I said, you've got to be kidding me," she said. "I was pretty upset."

When Arpante called the Violations Processing Center in Auburn, she was told the state was having trouble keeping up with the volume of new accounts in anticipation of the new All Electronic Tolling system next month. And her fines were removed.

The new E-ZPass system will eliminate the cash toll option on the turnpike by using overhead gantries to electronically collect tolls from motorists via transponders affixed to their windshields. Drivers without transponders will be billed based on a "pay-by-plate" rate — which will be significantly higher — based on photos taken of their license plates.

"Because there's this big push for transponders, they're behind," said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. "Administratively, they're being overloaded, and that's why this is happening."

Farley-Bouvier's staff has been working with a few other E-ZPass customers to make sure their issues are resolved quickly and smoothly.

"It's just completely unacceptable that people are in this situation," she said.

In an interview with The Eagle this week, a state official acknowledged the problem, which he said has since been resolved.

From Aug. 22 until about mid-September 2015, the state issued about 27,000 new transponders, according to Stephen Collins, director of tolling for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. About 56,000 transponders were issued during the same time this year.

"We got into a little bit of a backlog in our issuing [transponders] and putting them into the account," Collins said. "We were prepared for an increase, but the increase was higher and faster than we expected."

Collins said the problem has been rectified through measures such as increasing staff.

"We've stressed to our (customer service) provider that we need to maintain our turnaround time," he said. That turnaround time for account activation is three days for in-state applicants, he said.

And when the tolls disappear next month, he said, so too will the $50 fine.

After Oct. 28, drivers who go through the toll gantries without a transponder, or who have a transponder with a zero balance, only will be billed the cost of the toll, he said.

Until then, he said, anyone who incurs such a violation can have their fine removed if they call the E-ZPass customer service line.

Collins cautioned that it is "incumbent upon customers" to make sure their account information, including license plate number and credit card information, are up-to-date and they properly affix the transponder to their windshields.

James Brennan, of Swampscott, learned the hard way to keep his account information updated — he incurred $200 in fines during a weekend trip to and from Connecticut in August after he forgot to update his bank card information.

Brennan, an E-ZPass customer for 10 years, said he rarely uses toll roads for commuting since he started taking the MBTA to work three years ago.

"I understand you have to fine people to enforce it," he said. "It's my fault that I made the simple mistake."

He said this was his first time receiving fines from E-ZPass.

"How did they come up with that [$50] number?" he said. "I'd love to know the answer to that."

At a glance ...

• Individual E-ZPass accounts can be opened in person at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, select AAA offices, and the Auburn, Boston, East Boston, Saugus and Natick E-ZPass customer service centers.

• Online applications are available at mass.gov/ezpassma. The application can also be downloaded and faxed or mailed to: E-ZPass MA Customer Service Center, 27 Midstate Drive, Auburn, MA 01501.

• E-ZPass Massachusetts Customer Service Line: 877-627-7745.


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