Screwed by NJ tolls? Why man says he owes hundreds (VIDEO)
UPDATE: Following the initial publication of this story, Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney told New Jersey 101.5 he disputes many of the claims made by driver Joe Munger of Bayville. An update is here:
BERKELEY TOWNSHIP — An occasional short trip on the Garden State Parkway has turned into a costly headache for a Bayville resident — who says he's racked up hundreds of dollars in fines for violations he never committed.
Joe Munger of Bayville told New Jersey 101.5 he doesn't use the Parkway except for the occasional short trip from exit 77 in Berkeley Township to Toms River, so he doesn't have EZ Pass. Instead, he uses spare change in the car to toss the 50-cent toll into the basket.
Only it doesn't always register, he said. Story continues below video:
Most times, Munger told New Jersey 101.5, the electronic signing does not indicate payment has been made, and he'll receive a $50 violation in the mail. Munger said the same thing has happened occasionally at the cash lanes of the Toms River toll plaza.
"I paid a couple. They let me pay the 50 cents they said out of a convenience to me and them. Anything else I got after that I've always called up and they said they don't care, that was only a convenience and I gotta pay the $50. I said I'm not paying $50."
Update, 5 p.m.: Feeney told New Jersey 101.5 Munger has never called the authority's customer service to dispute any fines. He also said Munger was not fined for the trip through the tolls seen in a video he provided to New Jersey 101.5, and that Munger told customer service he has not taken further videos. Furthermore, Feeney said, signage indicating a toll has not yet been paid will not necessarily result in a violation notice.
Munger estimated he has between 15 and 30 tickets he has not paid over the past two years — a collection that could cost him as much as $1,500 in fines before any late fees. He said the Turnpike Authority has been getting serious about collecting the fines and threatening his credit rating.
That's why Munger said he decided to take video of every time he paid a toll — an assertion that contradicts the Turnpike Authority's account.
Munger posted a video of a recent toll paying experience on the Bayville NJ...Best Place on Earth" Facebook group. He showed a quarter, five dimes and a nickel in the palm of his hand before tossing the coins into the bucket. The sign does not acknowledge payment and instead continues to read "$0.50 coins only."
He said he's noticed the hole where the coins drop through has been out of alignment and not allowing anything to pass.
"A lot of people are actually having the same problem," Munger said of the 90-plus comments left on his Facebookpost.
"That toll is the worst," Raymond Shawn Simons posted.
"Yup all the time I stopped using dimes that seem to help a little," John A. Pagano commented.
Munger is skeptical about the explanation he said was offered by one Turnpike customer service rep about a computer tracking payment at the toll plaza turning off its cameras if the basket is full.
"That's not true. Everybody keeps getting tickets. It's basically like a money making system to them anyway," Munger said.
Update: Fenney said Munger misunderstood the explanation.
"When a basket gets jammed or otherwise stops letting coins drop into the vault, the violation system shuts off and an alarm sounds on the computer monitor of the plaza supervisor." Feeney said. "No violations are generated in that lane until the supervisor fixes the problem. Sometimes that can be done remotely, other times they have to go out to the lane to make the repair. That’s just one of the safeguards in place. If a certain number of cars in a row or a certain number in an hour generate violation notices, the violation system shuts down and the alarm sounds on the plaza supervisor’s computer. No more violations are generated until the machine is checked to make sure it is functioning properly.
Feeney said he looked at the transaction records for several vehicles that passed through the lane at Berkeley North before and after Munger, "and none of them had any problem paying the full 50 cent toll."
Munger said that the problems did not start for him until the installation of cameras at the plaza.
"Don't screw people who are paying the money and your tolls are broken. You're going to try and make $50 but you're not going to go out and fix your s**t," Munger said.
As reported by New Jersey 101.5 in January, a potential class action lawsuit seeks to recover huge fines from E-ZPass customers whose transponders didn't register as they went through tolls, and who were hit with $50 fines per violation. The complaint, filed in December in U.S. District Court, says the $50 fee violates both the 8th Amendment’s excessive fines clause and a state law that prohibits profiting off E-ZPass fines.
The Authority, which oversees the E-ZPass system in the state and manages the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, said in 2011 that it needed to double the fee in order to keep up with rising costs of process violations.
But according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by New Jersey 101.5, officials may have used inflated and misleading numbers to justify an “exorbitant” fee that the lawsuit describes as an “extortionate money grab,” a “massive theft and a most egregious breach of the public trust, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in ill gotten gains.”
Turnpike Authority officials say it indeed costs them more than $50 to process each violation.
With previous reporting by Sergio Bichao.