If you've ever driven around Dallas, chances are you've paid a vig to the North Texas Toll Authority, an agency that builds roads, tunnels and bridges using fees collected from drivers. But since the NTTA lacks police powers, it's had trouble collecting tolls that went unpaid -- and today, turned to naming and shaming 25,000 of its worst offenders. The surprise? Twenty-two drivers owe more than $100,000 in unpaid tolls and penalties -- with the list topped by a Dallas woman whose bill stands at $179,596.43. That's a Texas-sized bill in any state.
To break into the NTTA's list, one needed a minimum of 100 unpaid tolls, no response to bills and several notices after six months and at least $2,575 in back fees. The top offender, identified by the NTTA as one Amber Young of Dallas, supposedly sped through the toll booths 8,366 times without payment, with her total including some level of penalties the NTTA didn't disclose. The NTTA said last year about 3 percent of users were dodging about $13 million in tolls, and that a previous drive to publish the names of the worst offenders brought out more response than any other tactic.
NTTA drew its list by taking photos of license plates when a vehicle runs through its electronic toll gates without a valid transponder, then matches the plate to the registered owner of the vehicle. It also warns that the offenders on the list run the risk of a criminal citation -- and the NTTA now says it will start pursuing the worst offenders in civil court as well.
But the NTTA doesn't have a sterling record of matching offenders or warning those who fall behind. There's often mismatches between the address tied to a license plate or vehicle and who's actually driving; all those ex-es living in Texas don't necessarily care if the former spouse kept the toll bill up to date. The NTTA's Facebook page contains several complaints about hundreds of dollars in fees suddenly appearing on drivers' bills because the NTTA had bad contact information. Two years ago, a Fort Worth woman spent a day in jail because of a NTTA fine she didn't know about that had grown into a bench warrant for a missed court date.
The NTTA was created by Texas lawmakers to pay for roads without raising taxes by charging the people who actually used them, a system that's growing in many congested cities around the nation. If the NTTA's trick works well, expect other toll agencies to consider their own version of Texas justice.