Some Grand Island residents may be paying more than they should to cross bridges

More than 20 times the nine cents in some cases

Mike Baggerman
March 14, 2019 - 3:00 am

The cashless toll gantry beyond the South Grand Island Bridge on the 190-N (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. (WBEN) - Some Grand Island residents have discrepancies in their E-Z Pass statements and were charged more than 20 times the nine cents it should cost residents to cross the bridge.

Jim Marinello is one of those residents. He showed us his E-Z Pass statement which showed dozens of crossings since last November. Most of the times he crossed the tolls, he was charged the usual nine cents. However, on multiple occasions, he was charged $1.90 because his truck was dubbed a "Class 2H" vehicle, which means it has two axles and is seven-feet-six-inches or greater. His truck should be considered a "Class 2L" which is for vehicles less than seven-feet-six-inches and has two axles. 

He was also given a bill from the New York State Thruway Authority's "Tolls By Mail"  in January where he owed $2, though his E-Z Pass statement showed a nine-cent charge when he crossed last December. The bill also had the emblem of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which only leads to further confusion about where his money is going to. 

"It gets frustrating," he said about battling with the state thruway authority over his bill. "For an individual, it's not a lot of money so I'm sure a lot of people just ignore it or they don't pay attention to it. But if you add it up to the residents of Grand Island and how many people are affected, it could turn into quite a large sum of money."

Marinello in February was also given a collection notice from Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, a collection agency contracted by New York State. It said Marinello owed $1 in tolls, but was also slapped with a $25 fine as a fee from the collector. He said he has not paid that fine and even wrote to them saying that it was issued in error. 

Some of the questions he has include who actually collects these tolls and where does the money go to? 

"Nobody really looks at their E-Z Pass statement and I didn't start looking at my statements until I received a violation notice in the mail, which subsequently brought my attention to my E-Z pass statement and I found it," Marinello said. 

Another woman from Grand Island ran into similar issues with the tolls. She did not want her name published for this story but did show us her E-Z Pass billing statement which showed multiple discrepancies. The cars in question, a Buick Enclave and a Chevy Malibu (both Class 2L), were instead charged more than a dollar each time because the car was scanned as a different class. All told, the two vehicles that have separate E-Z Pass cards, were charged more than nine cents on five different occasions since November.

She told the Thruway Authority she's been overcharged eight times since August. Another issue is that her husband passed away she was unable to change the E-Z Pass into her name. The Thruway Authority told her that they cannot change ownership of an E-Z Pass and will have to submit to close the account and open a new one in the other person's name. 

"Just a pain all the way around," she wrote to WBEN. "...I am a 20 year resident, have had 5 vehicles on my plan- down to 2, never had issues like this before."

The New York State Thruway Authority spoke to WBEN but the public information officer was not authorized to conduct a broadcast interview by phone. They could not publicly comment on individual instances.

However, they provided us with several links with details about cashless tolling and E-Z Pass. The Thruway Authority told us that money that is collected from the tolls go directly back into the toll system. The representative also told us that if a person does not pay a bill by the due date, they will receive second bill in the mail with a 30-day due date and a $5 fee. After that, it becomes a violation and may be referred to the collection agency. They did not provide us with information regarding the vehicle classification issue but you can learn more about that by clicking HERE.

Among the information sent to us from the Thruway Authority includes proper mounting information as people who flash the E-Z Pass using their hand may run into issues. They also sent us basic information about E-Z Pass including what happens if you have a low balance threshold or a problem with an account balance, plus information about toll payments.

The Thruway Authority also has plans to implement cashless tolling across all of New York State by the end of 2020.

Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray said he's aware of some of the issues from Town of Grand Island residents. 

"We've heard about it quite a bit," McMurray said. "We've been in discussions with the Thruway Authority. We want to make sure the system works and the technology has been implemented correctly. We know there has been problems and we're doing our best to make sure those problems are resolved.

McMurray said he was told there is a glitch in the system where certain people are being charged incorrectly.

"It is unfortunate but I am hopeful that it is resolved," McMurray said. 

McMurray said he thinks a lot of the issues are with the cashless tolling system and, like Marinello, is urging people to look at their E-Z Pass statements. 

"You need to make sure that you're following up if you've been charged and not paid your bill," McMurray said. "I think that's where some people are running into serious problems. If you ignore that bill, you're going to get a penalty and it's going to go up. If you ignore it long enough, they're going to refer it to a collection agency."

He also said reporting incidents of discrepancies will help the thruway authority improve their systems.

New York State Senator Chris Jacobs re-introduced legislation this year which would discontinue the collection of tolls entirely at the Grand Island Bridges. The same bill was also introduced in the Assembly by fellow Republican Angelo Morinello. However, the bills are unlikely to pass. Jacobs said the tolls are unfair for Western New Yorkers and that he will continue to introduce legislation in future years.

"We hope this time around there is some momentum," Jacobs said. "We have (State Senator) Tim Kennedy, who is now chair of the transportation committee in Albany. That will help, I believe. We'll see how it goes this year."

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