SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — The San Francisco Bay Area’s toll bridge authority is about to crack-down on drivers with unpaid bridge toll fines by telling hundreds of thousands of motorists: It’s time to pay up.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Bay Area Toll Authority voted Wednesday to approve a crackdown that will be enforced through the DMV. Drivers with unpaid bridge toll tickets will be unable to renew their annual DMV vehicle registration until they pony up for outstanding tickets.
Motorists crossing the Bay Area’s seven toll bridges have racked up $50 million in unpaid tickets since January of 2021, according to the MTC. Many of these unpaid tickets have been slapped with late payment penalties, making paying them off even more painful.
On top of the $50 million in unpaid tickets, Bay Area bridge drivers also have incurred $134 million in outstanding late payment fees. With late fees and unpaid tickets combined, drivers owe the MTC a total of $184 million.
Here’s the breakdown according to MTC:
- 396,000 drivers have outstanding tolls and late fees with bills between $22 to $88.
- 101,000 drivers owe $110 to $418.
- 13,000 drivers will get calls from collection agencies because they owe more than $1,600.
KRON4 asked MTC spokesman John Goodwin about why so many drivers have turned delinquent when it comes to crossing bridges. Goodwin said the COVID pandemic had an impact “without question.”
“Back in the day, there was that option to pay cash. That option no longer exists,” Goodwin said.
MTC removed toll booth workers from all bridges at the start of the pandemic, and the workers are not coming back. Goodwin said the high number of unpaid tickets is also due to the sheer volume of drivers who use the seven bridges.
“We have so many people crossing the bridges. It’s over a hundred million crossing per year,” he said.
Goodwin said the upcoming crackdown is necessary because MTC is required to forward toll violations to the DMV within three years of an unpaid crossing.
“These go back to Jan. 1 of 2021. The first of these violations will time out by Jan. 1 of 2024,” Goodwin said.
The MTC Bay Area Toll Authority is alerting drivers now so that they have enough time to set up payment plans if experiencing financial hardships. On Thursday, state assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) was critical of the Bay Area Toll Authority’s vote.
“The Bay Area Toll Authority should have identified these drivers sooner to provide earlier notice and create payment plan options. Bay Area drivers should not be penalized because BATA chose to remove their operators. The switch to using technology to pay tolls has disproportionately impacted drivers who don’t have debit or credit cards. Now many drivers who rely on their vehicles for work or to bring their kids to school may face not being able to renew their DMV registrations,” Ting said.
“No driver should be penalized for driving to get to work,” Ting said.
Without toll booth workers, drivers can pay either electronically with a FasTrak, pay one-time online, or receive a notice by mail if they don’t have a transponder. Goodwin said getting a FasTrak is the easiest and best “way to go.”
He encouraged drivers to sign up for FasTrak’s electronic toll pay system online.