PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Paul Coombs received not one, but two toll violations from E-ZPass in New Jersey — though he claims he hasn’t left Rhode Island in months.
Coombs said the first notice came through the mail in February.
“The violations were for Dec., 22, 2019, at the Scudder Falls Bridge, now this violation that I just received says June, 20, 2020, at the George Washington Bridge,” he said.
Coombs said he thought it was an error at first.
“Then, when it dawned on me that it was my license plate, then I got rather scared,” he recalled. “If it happens at a toll booth, what would happen if it was in a crime?”
Paul Grimaldi, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) told Target 12 in an email that “inadvertent toll bills are a not infrequent occurrence.”
“Electronic toll readers around the country often have difficultly recording plates that may have brackets around them or plastic covers on them that obscure the numbers and letters, as well as those that might have the similar numerical sequence but be of a different type,” he explained.
It’s also possible for a commercial license plate to have the same number combination as a passenger license plate, according to Grimaldi.
“Where the confusion most often comes in for toll readers, is that we also issue plates with numbers only in the other major categories,” he said. “As an example, it is possible to have a passenger plate 169 732 and a commercial plate with 169732.”
Grimaldi went on to explain this happens primarily due to legislative mandates.
“Over many, many years, state politicians enacted legislation creating the variety of plates, sometimes spurred by someone’s idea to have a plate to distinguish some group or person,” he said. “Rectifying the situation now would be problematic as there would be a cost in staff time, materials, and mailing to reissue plates.”
Coombs, who has a commercial license plate so he can tow his five-wheeled trailer, said he tried to dispute the claim.
“I made out the dispute form on the back of the notice and I sent it in,” he said, thinking then, “OK, that’ll be the end of it.”
But Coombs said he received another notice a month later and called the New Jersey E-ZPass customer service department.
“She said, ‘just make out the dispute form and send it in,'” Coombs recalled.
After receiving the third notice, he sent in documentation of his vehicle.
“I made copies of my registration and I took pictures of my truck and I attached it to the dispute form and mailed it back,” Coombs said.
Target 12 reached out to the New Jersey E-ZPass and that’s exactly what a customer representative said to do (include the vehicle registration) but the rep also said it can take several weeks for the documents to be processed and entered into the system.
When you call New Jersey E-ZPass customer service, a recording explains the toll booths are no longer taking cash due to COVID-19.
Coombs said the bill has gone to a collection agency in Norwood, Mass. With the two toll violations plus administrative fees, the bill comes out to more than $90.
“Why should I pay someone else’s fee?” Coombs asked. “I feel that it’s a moral thing, it’s a responsibility. It’s their responsibility … why put the burden on other people?”
Coombs said he expects to receive another notice next month.
“I’ll go through the same routine: send a picture, send in my registration,” he said, adding that he hopes this gets resolved soon.
“Just an apology and let them take care of the problem and go to the right individual,” Coombs said.
According to Grimaldi, the DMV can help in these types of situations, you just have to send them the information through this online form.