STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Staten Island commuters were shocked when opening their E-ZPass bills that said they were charged the non-resident price of $17 to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge instead of the resident rate of $5.50.
Some residents were charged the non-resident price because they failed to flip a switch on their E-ZPass Flex transponder, which indicates either HOV or sub-HOV occupancy inside the vehicle.
If a driver goes through a toll with the HOV indicator on as a single passenger, they are charged the non-resident rate of $17.
As part of E-ZPass’s Staten Island Resident discount plan, borough residents are supposed to be charged a $5.50 toll, and a $3.20 toll when traveling in a high-occupancy vehicle. The bridge toll for non-residents is $17.
Councilmembers Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore) and Steve Matteo (R-Mid-Island), Assemblyman Michael Reilly (R-South Shore) and Borough President James Oddo are asking E-ZPass to refund the difference to Staten Islanders who’ve been unfairly charged.
They’re also asking the agency to fix its system, stating that a switch is not indicative of residency.
Motorists have been complaining about this issue since October.
A source told the Advance that in order to be eligible for for the SI Carpool plan, a motorist must be a Staten Island resident and their vehicle must be registered in the borough.
If the switch on the transponder is not in it’s correct position, or if there are less than three occupants in the vehicle and/or the license plate of the vehicle is not listed on the customers’ account, the cash rate will be billed by mail, the source explained.
The source said there have only been about a dozen customer complaints since September regarding charges.
When asked about the billing discrepancies and possible glitches in the system, an MTA spokesman said, “Cashless tolling has generated significant and sustained improvements for motorists and the environment through decreased travel times, reduced congestion, lower carbon emissions, and has improved safety throughout the system. We will continue to work closely with elected officials and our customers to help resolve any issues or disputes.”
ISLAND POLS ASK E-ZPASS TO REFUND MONIES
“Whether a driver has flipped a switch to indicate HOV or not has zero bearing on whether that individual is a Staten Island resident who’s entitled to the discounted rate,” Borelli said.
“There is absolutely no way that we’re going to allow E-ZPass to charge Staten Islanders $17 just because they developed transponders that perform poorly in the field. We’ve written to E-ZPass to provide them with an additional opportunity to correct this problem, and we’re prepared to engage with the New York State Attorney General to demand action if this outrageous practice is not immediately discontinued,” he said.
Borough President James Oddo said he’s grateful that a discount applies to Staten Island residents, however, the mistake is unacceptable.
“We need to work together to make sure the E-ZPass system continues to fulfill its purpose of making people’s lives easier, and does not cause more stress for our Island’s drivers,” Oddo said.
Minority Leader Steve Matteo (R-Mid-Island) said Staten Islanders are once again being treated unfairly by the city’s transit system.
“The MTA should resolve this immediately, first by issuing a refund to each and every qualified Staten Island resident who has been overcharged when utilizing the E-ZPass Flex, and then by fixing the glitch in the system that has created this problem in the first place.
“Once again, the folks at E-ZPass have left us scratching our heads,” said Assemblyman Michael Reilly. “Swift action must be taken to correct this egregious oversight so that it will never happen again, but more importantly, E-ZPass must reimburse those who have been charged the wrong rate.”
CASHLESS TOLLING WOES
There have been several issues with E-ZPass since the MTA’s implementation of cashless tolling last year.
Residents said the removal of the individual toll plazas have led to fines for commuters because they were no longer able to see a visual indication of low balances on their accounts.
At the time, former-Assemblyman Ron Castorina (R-South Shore) and Borelli issued a joint statement encouraging E-ZPass to provide low balance notifications as part of the cashless tolling system.
The MTA responded, stating, “The use of an E-ZPass when there are no finds available is a violation and can result in fees being assessed. To avoid this situation, we highly recommend our customers sign up for E-ZPass mobile alerts, where they can receive important information regarding their E-ZPass account, including low balance notifications.”