ALBANY – Ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a new audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office released Friday found that the New York State Thruway Authority needs to improve identifying, billing and collecting the $276.3 million it is owed in unpaid tolls and fees.
The state Thruway is a 570-mile highway throughout the state that includes 816 bridges, 134 interchanges and 27 travel plazas.
Tolls and related fees comprise of 90% of the Thruway Authority’s revenue. After the Authority fully implemented cashless tolling in November 2020, 90% of those tolls are collected through E-ZPass accounts, with the remaining 10% paid with Tolls By Mail accounting.
As of January, there were 257,917 past-due accounts that met the criteria for registration suspension and 49,740 of these customers were persistent violators, the audit found. While the Thruway Authority placed $127.6 million of outstanding debt from 2020 into a COVID-19 Settlement Relief Program to dismiss a portion of the violation fees, the Authority has only referred 60 or fewer license plate numbers for suspension since restarting the suspension program in July 2022.
The audit also found that out-of-state drivers account for 46% of the unpaid transactions, 43% of which were from vehicles registered in New Jersey, totaling $34.2 million, and Connecticut, totaling $16.7 million.
“This audit has identified ways in which the Thruway can improve its collection of tolls and fees,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Based on the Authority’s response, I’m hopeful action will be taken to implement our recommendations to maximize revenue for the Thruway.”
There were also 25,617 outstanding accounts from Massachusetts, totaling $6.5 million, that met the suspension criteria, but the state did not initiate the process for suspension, despite the two states having a reciprocity agreement, it found.
Violators get a warning if their E-ZPass account has a negative balance for more than 30 days. If no payment is made in the next 30 days, the account is canceled and a $25 fee is charged. If the E-ZPass device isn’t returned, another $16 fee is added. Tolls by Mail accounts that aren’t paid in 30 days trigger a warning notice and a $5 fine. If still not paid 30 days later, it is in violation and triggers a $50 fee.
Auditors additionally found fault with the Thruway’s identification of licenses from images it takes. For example, it sampled 161 images that were rejected and found 11% were identifiable and billable. It is also estimated that the Thruway missed out on billing an additional $7.2 million in tolls last year on images that were rejected for reasons, such as being too dark or bright, which are in the Thruway Authority’s ability to fix.
Upon receiving a copy of the audit, state Thruway Authority officials stated they agreed with three of the 11 recommendations, though it is immediately not clear which those are. For the other eight recommendations, they stated, “The Authority understands this recommendation on principle,” but it is not clear what, if any, action officials will take.
Under state law, the state Thruway Authority must report back to DiNapoli’s office, the governor and leaders of the state Legislature within 180 days of receiving the report to detail what steps were taken to implement the recommendations issued in the audit.
Contact Ashley Hupfl at [email protected].