It Used to be Septic Tanks … now it’s the Turnpike

Most of my constituents’ complaints used to concern Title V–regulations for septic tanks.

Today, it’s the Fast Lane program. The Turnpike’s transponder program. So you can go through toll booths quickly, automatically, and ... oops!

"This warning letter is being sent to you…"

"Toll violation…"

"The Toll Violation Warning Letter cannot be administratively dismissed…"

"You may request a hearing…"

The volume of complaints about getting tickets, appealing, and trying to figure out what happened, continues to grow. The Mass Turnpike Authority isn’t making it easy for my office to solve your problems. Even if it’s just low batteries!

Those low batteries, for example, mean you can mail your transponder to Fast Lane…or go to their office in Auburn. Auburn? Near Worcester?

The Turnpike people claim that they’re trying to be as cooperative and efficient as possible, but my patience is wearing thin. Maybe they’re just overworked–almost half of all toll transactions are through the Fast Lane. Maybe it’s just that they’re starting, for the first time since the system opened almost three years ago, to send out tickets for violators.

Or, are too many drivers trying to cheat the system?

To try to cut down on complaints, the Mass Turnpike Authority has sent all subscribers notices reminding them about the rules and how the system works.

When you get a ticket, you get proof that it was your car that earned it. In a photograph, front bumper, license plate and all. But…

When you appeal a ticket, at least for all of my constituents that have contacted me, your appeal is denied.

One woman had her transponder on a leased car. So, the tickets went to the lease company. Which didn’t notify her. As the fines mounted up, the time to appeal disappeared. She notified the Turnpike that she was the owner/operator. Ford Credit notified the state. A month later…another ticket, another denial. Two months later…the same. And, get this. She had the "free" transponder to allow her to use our local western exits–and that’s where she got these alleged tickets. Appeals denied.

Another one of my violators confirmed that his account number and license plate number were correctly recorded by the state–and got two tickets for using a car other than that which was registered. It was the correct car, correct account. He was ticketed for not paying when the transponder was faulty. Appeals rejected.

There are more. Case histories. A lot of them. And I didn’t succeed, through normal channels, in solving any of the problems. So I wrote to the chief executive officer of the Turnpike Authority. I was polite, which wasn’t easy for me under the circumstances, saying that my constituents’ "modest and reasonable expectations have not been met" and that I was having difficulty helping them resolve their differences, and that our citizens deserve better.

also sent him just one example of the problems. I got a form letter back. And, my constituents’ problems went unresolved. Unless, a 100 percent denial rate can be considered resolution.

t took two months and a really rude call from me to someone else at the Authority to finally get an answer on just one of the problems. A very simple problem. And, a really rude call! So rude I should probably apologize.

Meanwhile the Mass Turnpike Authority sent out letters to all Fast Lane Patrons. The letter listed all fifteen rules and an explanation of yellow lights. There aren’t red lights, by the way, because they don’t want anyone to actually stop.

f the top yellow light says "call Fast Lane," call. You’re in trouble already. Your Fast Lane pass didn’t work. If the middle yellow light says "low balance," better make arrangements to make a deposit immediately. Without money in the account, you’ll get a ticket.

Oh yes, that form letter. It told me how the Fast Lane works, how I can put money into my account, what the lights mean, that you’ll get one warning ticket before any real ones are issued. Okay, good, good.

Then. "We have recently instituted a policy that will provide a "fine grace period’ of five working days following the date of the warning before actual fines start accruing for member mis-use." And "after that first warning we must assume the member is fully aware of his or her responsibilities." (Let me tell you about the guy who used his daughter’s car while she was on her honeymoon.)

Finally, and I quote, "We assure you that we are exceptionally fair."

don’t think so.

And, "If you have any questions at all please feel free to contact me or my staff. We are here to serve.".

Meanwhile. That violation you got in the mail can be costly. It starts with a $50 fine, but penalties quickly add up. If you want to keep using the Fast Pass system you have to pay the fines. In fact, you have to pay the fines before you can register your car again.

Bottom line. Read the 15 rules. Don’t try to beat the Fast Lane folks. It’s not worth it to beat a fifty cent toll to risk a fifty dollar fine.

f you do, however, you’re not alone. The Turnpike Authority just last week said they have 25,000 drivers on their list of people who have violated their rules.

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