Hundreds of thousands of drivers may face an unpleasant surprise from the DMV in the coming months: a lien on their annual vehicle registration from unpaid bridge tolls and a slew of tacked-on penalties.
It’s part of a renewed crackdown approved on Wednesday by the Bay Area’s bridge authority, which is looking to recoup $50 million in unpaid bridge tolls and levee a staggering $134 million in late-payment penalties that have amassed since January 2021.
But advocates working with low-income communities say threatening vehicle registration over unsettled tolls will have devastating effects on people who rely on their cars for everything from job security to shuttling kids to school.
“A lot of our clients are literally living out of their cars,” said Ocean Mottley, an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid. “So losing their registration is not just losing their car, they’re losing their house.”
The large majority of drivers – 396,135 – face outstanding toll fees and late penalties of $22 to $88. Another 101,000 people are facing debts from $110 to $418, according to data released in April. Meanwhile, nearly 13,000 drivers will face calls from collection agencies because they owe over $1,650.
Many indebted drivers can expect holds when they renew their registrations, while the authority is also developing a plan for people making up to 200% of the federal poverty level, about $27,000, to avoid a registration hold through staggered payments.
Wednesday’s 6-to-1 vote by the Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee renews a policy that was paused during the pandemic, signaling a switch from leniency in difficult times to a crackdown on toll violations.
“I think we need to treat everyone like adults,” said David Rabbitt, a Sonoma County supervisor who sits on the board. “How can we walk away or turn our back on the significant amount of past due revenue.”
The surge in unpaid violations is largely due to agency ditching toll collectors during the pandemic over COVID-19 concerns, allowing to drivers without a FasTrak responder to cruise through without any immediate payment. Those drivers are sent violation notices in the mail and must foot the bill regardless of who was driving.
FREMONT, CA – DECEMBER 3: Empty toll booths are photographed at the Dumbarton Bridge on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Fremont, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
In 2020, the agency waived late fees and paused its policy to move drivers carrying toll debt to the DMV and …read more
Source:: The Mercury News