Bamboozled: Driver confronts E-ZPass bumps

Vincent Pittaro isn’t much of a gambler. He enjoys the slot machines, but he mostly takes in the scenery. The last time the WarrenBB branding County man visited Atlantic City was about four years ago.

That’s why Pittaro, 66, was all the more perplexed when he received an E-ZPass violation notice, dated Jan. 28, 2009, for an unpaid toll on the Atlantic City Expressway.

”I was not even an E-ZPass member at the time,” said Pittaro, who lives in Washington Township.

Knowing there was an error, Pittaro contacted E-ZPass, paid the $0.70 toll but not the $25 administrative fee, and appealed.

Then he received a second violation notice, again for an unpaid toll on the Atlantic City Expressway. This one was for $3, plus the $25 administrative fee. Again he called, paid the toll but not the fee, and appealed.

Pittaro said he sent four letters in three months, called E-ZPass several times and left messages for supervisors, all with no results.

6209Pittaro knew he didn’t travel down the Atlantic City Expressway. When he looked closely at the grainy photos in the violation notices, he noticed the back of the truck in the photos wasn’t his silver 2002 Ford Explorer.

Thinking the photos would absolve him, Pittaro tried several times to get clearer photos of the guilty car from E-ZPass. He asked E-ZPass to look at the photos so it could see the car in the photo wasn’t the one registered to Pittaro. His requests went unanswered.

Pittaro, frustrated by the lack of response, took the violation notices to his local Motor Vehicles Commission agency. He was concerned the violations would keep coming, and that perhaps another car in New Jersey — the real toll violator — shared his license plate number.

A clerk volunteered to help. No one shared the license plate number, but there were several plates with similar letter and number combinations. One in particular was suspicious: It had the same combination of characters but ended in a “T,” which looks much like the “J” at the end of Pittaro’s license plate.

”That would make the vehicle registered to a person who lives in Gloucester County, which the Atlantic City Expressway runs through,” Pittaro said of his sleuthing. ”They think it is a dark colored Mitsubishi Montero SUV.”

At the clerk’s suggestion, Pittaro ordered new license plates at a cost of $6 as an isurance policy against future wrongful violations.

Pittaro sent E-ZPass the information about the other car, but still, no response.

Bamboozled contacted the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which manages the Atlantic City Expressway. Within 48 hours, communications director Sharon Gordon responded with an explanation.

”The violator’s license plate was tampered with,” Gordon said. ”It appears it was done intentionally, that the original plate was tampered with and it was altered. Either a letter wore off or someone tried to repaint it.”

Gordon said E-ZPass investigators reviewed the video that captures images of license plates as they travel through the tolls, and she said it was obvious that something was done to the last character on the plate and it was misread by the electronic reader. She said she’s never heard of something like this happening before.

”The gentleman’s going to be reimbursed 100 percent and his record has already been corrected,” Gordon said.

E-ZPass will also send the violation notices to the correct driver.

If you receive an E-ZPass violation notice that you think is in error, pay the toll to avoid late fees, then start the appeals process. Follow the directions for appeals on the violation notice, but you should also go to the website, ezpass.com. At the site, you can report your dispute and it will be directed to the proper agency for attention, Gordon said.

That’s where the confusion, and, of course, the bureaucracy, kicks in. Fourteen states accept E-ZPass, and there are varying agencies within those states that handle specific problems, depending on where you first ordered your E-ZPass and where the violation occurred.

There are a total of four agencies that handle E-ZPass in New Jersey, and a whopping 25 agencies across those 14 states, according to e-zpass.net, an inter-agency E-ZPass site.

Complicating matters was that Pittaro was not an E-ZPass customer. Without an account number, he couldn’t log in to the website to report the problem. He used the Newark address listed on the violation notice to send his complaints to customer service.

”Eventually, and the operative word there is eventually, that letter would have found its way to us,” Gordon said. ”The complaint would be addressed but it wouldn’t be expeditious because there’s a chain of procedures, which would exasperate the customer’s frustration.”

If you can’t get relief from the website or the 800 number, contact the highway authority that covers the roadway on which the violation occurred.

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