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Big Catch: MTA Nabs Almost $1M from Toll Evaders in One Day

A line of cars belonging to regular toll cheats that the MTA seized on Wednesday. Photo: Dave Colon

The MTA announced confiscated cars belonging to 36 "persistent" toll scofflaws at its bridges and tunnels on Wednesday, including a whopping 28 at the Whitestone Bridge alone.

The recidivist toll evaders racked up a close to $1 million in tolls and late fees, with one determined non-paying driver owing  more than $59,000 all by him- or herself.

An Acura, rebranded as a Honda, whose driver incurred $59,000 of tolls and late fees. Photo: MTA
The driver of this car incurred $59,000 of tolls and late fees. Photo: MTA
An Acura, rebranded as a Honda, whose driver incurred $59,000 of tolls and late fees. Photo: MTA

The cars, 18 of which were seized in a four-hour period on Wednesday, were impounded after what the MTA said is a long process of the drivers constantly driving through tolled facilities, not responding to toll bills sent through the mail, or to follow-up notices, notices from collection agencies and eventually registration suspensions.

"To get to the point of being in our system, I like to say you have to try to get there," said Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Vice President and Chief of Operations Richard Hildebrand.

According to TBTA President Daniel DeCrescenzo, none of the cars seized had license plate trickery like covered or defaced plates; the three dozen drivers were driving with good old fashioned metal license plates. But they were caught because their registrations were suspended after multiple non-payment notices and regular trips across MTA bridges and tunnels. The agency has said it lost $144 million in tolls and penalties in 2021 to evaders.

Some of the drivers, unsurprisingly, also wreaked havoc on the roads around the city, with a number of the impounded cars being tied to multiple speed or red light camera or bus lane camera tickets.

Although the MTA managed to fill most of a parking lot near the Whitestone Bridge with seized cars, DeCrescenzo said that the agency isn't nabbing dozens of toll evaders every day. Because only about 5 percent of drivers have toll bills mailed to their homes, the TBTA boss said that the agency has only seized about 7,500 cars since open road tolling was introduced in 2017, but that the DMV has suspended 40,000 license plates for non-payment in that time. So there are a lot of fish left to catch.

"The [visual of a] car on the hook is really the deterrent where people say, 'Oh, man, they they could take my car I didn't know that,'" said DeCrescenzo. "It's the really the registration suspension when people get religion."

The toll evasion enforcement, which TBTA officials said was part of ongoing effort to get regular scofflaws to pay up, is tied to the larger MTA effort to crack down on fare evasion on public transit, something that MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber has said tears at the very social fabric of this teeming experiment we call New York City.

The criminal justice system treats toll evasion quite differently than fare evasion. Someone caught jumping a turnstile is subject to arrest for theft of services, but drivers who rack up, say, $59,000 in tolls are not. Gov. Hochul tried to get toll evasion added to the theft-of-services law in last year's budget, but state legislators objected to the proposal. The legislature also passed a law that would have capped fines and penalties because some lawmakers said it was anti-driver, but Hochul vetoed it.

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