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Sunday, August 25, 2013

I495 Admin Fee Scam Part II

IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE BEING HOUNDED BY TRANSURBAN FOR HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, OR IF THEY'VE ALREADY GOTTEN A JUDGMENT AGAINST YOU -- or if you are just mad because they are asking you to pay a $12.50 administration fee for an obvious mistaken entry --  please read through the comments below, and email Lisa Marie Comras (lmsdigiulio@gmail.com), who is organizing a class action against Transurban.  Her attorneys will contact you and then you'll be able to decide for yourself whether you want to be part of the move to hold Transurban accountable.
According to Emily Miller of Fox 5 DC, Transurban filed 26,000 lawsuits against drivers in 2014 alone.  Maybe you're one of those drivers.  If you're facing an immediate court date, you might find some good ideas here or here, courtesy of attorney David Bernhard, via Fox 5 DC's Emily Miller.  But when that's over, you should still strongly consider joining the class action.

Original Post:

This was meant to be a reply to a comment by Delilah Johnson on my I495 Admin Fee Scam post but for some reason the reply isn't working.  So for now I'll just post it here:

Wow. Mark and Delilah, sorry to hear about this.  Mark's right -- for them to sit back for three months without telling you that you're doing something wrong, and then to charge you an administrative fee for every single instance, is outrageous.  Administratively, it shouldn't cost them any more to send a letter for one offense than for 20.  And $12.50 is still too big for one lousy computer-generated letter.

The real problem is that if you end up fighting them on your own, chances are your credit rating will take a hit, because they'll turn it over to collections.  But if you're mad and are willing to take them on -- and willing to monitor your credit rating and let the reporting bureaus know that any mark against you is "in dispute," then here's something you might try:

Write a letter, via registered mail, to them at their US Headquarters (they are an Australian outfit) and enclose a check for about $45.55, made out to Transurban Group.  On the "memo" line of the check write "Payment in Full", and refer to any number that they gave you in their letter to you (I threw mine out so I don't remember what the letter looks like), or say:  "toll plus admin fee dispute" or something like that.

Your letter can say the following:

Via Registered Mail
Transurban Group
6440 General Green Way
Alexandria, Virginia 22312

[this is the address for their headquarters -- if the bill they sent you has another address, just use it]

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have received a letter from you informing me that I owe you $33.05 in missed tolls, and $725.00 in "administration fees," for a total of $758.05, for a number of short trips taken on I-495.  I dispute this charge for several reasons.  First, assuming your information is correct, I was completely unaware of the fact that I was driving on a toll lane; your lanes are poorly marked and you have done little to educate the public about your system.  Second, you provided me no notice whatsoever that you would be charging me more than $12 per trip.  Third, it is unconscionable that you charge $725 in "administration fees" for the administrative task of notifying me of $33.05 in missed tolls.  Fourth, it's particularly unconscionable for you to let the administration fees accumulate, at $12.50 a pop, without notifying me that they were accumulating.

I am enclosing herewith a check for $45.55, which reflects the $33.05 in tolls you say I owe you, plus $12.50 to cover your administrative costs in this matter.  Please consider this check to be payment in full for resolution of this dispute.

Sincerely,

_________

---

If they cash the check, then the dispute is over -- they have accepted your settlement offer, and they can't sue you (or if they do, you'll win).  If they don't cash the check and turn the matter over to collections (or if they cash the check and turn it over to collections anyway), when the collections people call tell them the matter is in dispute, and that you're waiting to hear back on your settlement offer.  If they at some point reject your offer, just invite them to sue you.  They won't, because it's just not worth an attorney's time to do that, and it's also far from clear that they are legally justified in charging such a hefty "administration fee" without having given you (or the rest of us) any notice.  It's possible that the collections agency will report you to the credit reporting agencies even though you inform them the issue is in dispute.  If that happens, and you want to protect your credit rating, you need to contact the credit reporting agencies separately (you can google how to do that).

I note that you say they charged you $725 in administrative fees for 20 trips.  It's hard for me to figure out where that number comes from -- my best guess is that they are charging you for 29 trips, and they doubled the administrative fees because you haven't paid yet (since 29 * 12.50 * 2 = 725).  So maybe they've sent you two letters; that's why I left it vague with "administrative costs in this matter" at the end of the letter (instead of saying you're paying $12.50 for one letter).

You could also try sending them less money -- e.g. just the $33.05, or even less than that.  If they cash the "payment in full" check, you are again home free.  But I think it's more likely that they'll cash it if you make a reasonable offer that is tied to the facts of your situation.  $45.55 is reasonable because it includes not only the tolls, but a big fat $12.50 administrative fee.

Good luck with this -- whatever path you choose -- and let us know what happens!

Please don't consider this legal advice.  If you want that, consult a lawyer.  But it is practical advice; it's what I'd do myself in this situation.

8 comments:

  1. I recently received 3 summons to appear before court.
    ..in violation of 33.1-56.2, 1-495: from Interstate 395-95-495 to Dulles Toll Road SR 267...on 11/17/2012... following amounts are due and owing $1.20 for unpaid toll (s); $100.00 admin. fee; $72. costs; and $50.00 civil penalty, based on 1 offense within 2 years.
    For offense #2 dated ten days later on 12/27/2012 11:23am the civil penalty went to $250 based on 2 offenses within 2 years.
    Offense #3 on the same day as #2 the civil penalty was $500 on 3 offense in 2 years.
    $800 in civil penalties
    $300 admin fees
    $216 in 'cost'

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  2. Wow. That's outrageous. It looks like your problems were on the Dulles Toll Road (not the TransUrban EZ Pass Lanes), and they can be truly rough about enforcement. Here's a link to a story about a guy who ran up $200,000 in such fines, and had to settle for $40,000: http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/6842

    I now see that there is a statute -- VA Code 33.1-56.3 (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+33.1-56.3) that gives the toll operator the ability to issue summonses like that, and I'd be interested to hear from others whether they've gotten summonses from TransUrban.

    I strongly suggest you get a lawyer, and if you can't afford one, try calling around to legal aid organizations to see if anyone can help you. If that doesn't work just go to Court and do your best to (1) negotiate a deal with the prosecution, and (2) explain your position as best you can to the Court. If the Court ends up "convicting" you, and you don't pay, then based on the statute, your registration can be suspended and your license revoked. And you'll still owe all that money and probably more. You don't want that.

    Also, I see from the statute that if you are convicted of the second and third violations, that will result in demerit "points", which will likely affect your insurance rates. So if there's a way to cut a deal that removes those violations, that's something you should go for.

    Another option at this late stage would be to try to call the toll operator and try to negotiate with them. The Dulles Toll Road operator is Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA); their number is 1-877-762-7824 (If I'm missing something and this is actually the Transurban Group, their number is 571 419 6100)

    I personally think that the statute is unconstitutional -- a violation of the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eight Amendment, and also a violation of your due process rights. But it will be hard to find a lawyer to argue that for you cheaply, and it's also far from clear that a Court would agree with you (and me); the scope of the Excessive Fines Clause has been severely limited. Presumably the lawyer representing the $200,000 toll guy went through this analysis already.

    I'm very sorry about your troubles and wish you the best of luck -- please let us know how it turns out.

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  3. I got sent to collections for a $2.00 fine plus $100 admin fee, I didn't get the letters until late because I was away. They are ruthless, and are offering me no options but to pay the full amount.

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  4. Same here. 5 violations within 2 weeks totaling $1.50 in tolls which have now accumulated $500 in admin fees. Received court summons which adds costs and penalties bringing the total to a whopping $3660 for $1.50 in tolls. But here is the kicker - I HAVE AN EZPASS. Yes, there was a problem with the transponder but I had no idea until I received these invoices. The fees escalated before EZPass could resolve it. I even used the EZ Pass in multiple states up and down the east cost a week before these "violations" occurred without issue. I'm beside myself. I am going to try calling one more time to resolve this but otherwise will go to court to fight this as best I can. There is no other way to describe this other than extortion.

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    Replies
    1. That's insane. I hope things work out for you. The fact that you have an EZPass should help. I've got one of those now, but I never know if it's working or not. Maybe a judge will be sympathetic, and will also understand what this whole scam is about. Anyway, if you get a chance, let us know how it turns out!

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    2. Good morning - if you want to join our federal class action lawsuit, please email me and I will give you our attorney's information. There are many of us and we are filing our suit in court - soon. my email is lmsdigiulio@gmail.com

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  5. I am renewing my search to find folks interested in joining me and 15 others in a federal class action lawsuit. We HAVE to stop Transurban, Fluor, 495 Express Lanes AND the commonwealth of VA. This "First Time Forgiveness" policy is being implemented sporadically - they aren't following the "rules" they created. It is only going to get worse now that the 95 corridor lanes are open.
    I had $14.20 in tolls (on a fully funded, properly mounted EZPass) that is now a $10,751.40 JUDGMENT and I will lose my license because I REFUSE to pay.

    IF you are 100% interested, email me at lmsdigiulio@gmail.com - give me general overview details on your experience.

    Lets put an end to this.

    Lisa Comras

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    Replies
    1. Just found this site/discussion and found it quite interesting that SO MANY others are being ripped off by this company put in charge of collecting these fees,...brand new toll lanes, not all properly signage, and no forgiveness for first time offenders.

      Here is what I wrote to them as an appeal for my first time offense.

      Dear Sirs,

      Very recently I was returning to Florida (where I recently retired to) from a trip I had made north to visit with some old friends in Silver Spring, Maryland. When I exited off of the beltway surrounding Wash DC to go onto #95 south my thoughts were, why not take the express lanes south as it was not rush hour(s), and they were open to go south. It was somewhere between 11:30 and 13:00 hours,...can't remember for sure. It was definitely NOT rush hour.

      I became a little bit confused when I saw an EZ Pass sign, but I figured that was for vehicles utilizing these express lanes during rush hours.

      Surely a toll was not necessary during non-rush hour operation?? You need to realize that before my retirement at 72 years of age, I had driven limos around the DC area for 14 years, and had occasions to utilize these express lanes on numerous occasions,...and without any tolls,...and without HOV restrictions during non-rush hour times.


      So it was these thoughts that were going thru my mind as I attempted to navigate my vehicle thru the somewhat heavy traffic over to the left lanes to the first entry point for the express lanes. You should also realize that this entry point is not very far from the exit point from the capitol beltway. This means you have very little time to try and read and understand the signage while trying to avoid going too slow for the vehicles approaching you from the rear at excessive speeds so often encountered in the DC area (and other big cities) in this modern day of aggressive driving.

      Once on the express lanes I determined that there were NEW rules of tolls at ALL times (surprised me again since these lanes were originally funded by Federal monies as HOV lanes, not toll road lanes). I sought to exit these lanes ASAP, but found that was not possible until quite a distance down the road where I did so immediately. I had hopes of finding some small toll booth where drivers that had made a mistake like mine could pay the toll. No such toll booth existed, I had given up my EZ Pass membership about a year previous, as I just did not require it here in northern Florida, or anywhere else along #95 south from DC to Florida,...why pay the maintenance fees.

      So I am writing you this letter hoping that you understand the honest mistake on my part for utilizing these new express lanes. I would be glad to pay the toll of $1.50, but I do not feel that I need to be paying 10 times the amount in this case.

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