BOSTON (CBS) — Thousands of drivers took advantage of a June amnesty program that forgave enormous toll fines racked up for trips across the Tobin Bridge.
MassDOT announced the program in May following a series of I-Team reports about commuters who faced the threat of losing their licenses if they did not pay thousands of dollars in fines.
The Tobin Bridge’s all-electronic tolling system rolled out as pilot program in July 2014. For drivers who did not have a transponder, there was no longer a cash option.
Instead, the technology captured an image of the license plate and sent an invoice to the registered driver.
However, some drivers discovered the tolls carried late fees as high as $90. And the longer they waited to pay the bill, the more the fines ballooned.
The amnesty program allowed drivers an opportunity to simply pay the outstanding $3 tolls. All the late fees were forgiven.
According to MassDOT, there were 54,097 delinquent accounts eligible for amnesty at the start of June. Those drivers owed a combined $764,766 in tolls.
During the amnesty, 10,945 accounts settled up $246,695.
Michael Breau crosses the Tobin every day for his architecture job, essentially working in the shadow of the bridge in Chelsea.
Breau had an issue with his E-Z Pass transponder during 12 trips over the bridge, but figured the tolls would disappear when he loaded more money into his account. That wasn’t the case. And before he knew it, those dozen tolls had multiplied into a $1,200 bill.
To renew his license, Breau agreed to a $600 settlement so he could continue legally commuting to work.
“It felt like I was hit in the face with a baseball bat,” Breau told the I-Team. “As far as I see it, it was literally racketeering.”
On Wednesday, the I-Team asked MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack if drivers like Breau will get a refund.
“Like all special offers, it sort of takes effect the day you announce, so we have no plans to do anything retroactively,” Pollack said.
When asked if that decision is fair, Pollack answered, “Some people would say the fair thing to do is to leave the penalties in place because since some people paid them, everyone should. We didn’t think that was fair, either.”
Pollack expressed optimism that more than 10,000 drivers who took advantage of the amnesty will no longer feel crippled by the huge fines.
The remaining delinquent tolls will begin to incur late fees, albeit at a much lower penalty.
A $1 late fee will now be added to every unpaid toll after 30 days; an additional $1 after 60 days; and another $1 after 90 days.
Total late fees for a driver will be capped at $500 per year. After 90 days, a driver’s license and registration will be marked for non-renewal at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
“I’m happy the abusive system is over with,” Breau said. “But I will say that I will never get over this experience. It makes me distrust government.”
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.