You Can’t Fight City Hall – or any other bureaucracy.

The tollway system in Texas.

Who pays to build it?
In some way, shape or form it’s paid for (at least in part) by taxpayers through bonds, subsidies, eminent domain, etc.

Who uses it?  Those who can afford to pay the tolls which are charged by those who run it.  On the face of it, this seems like a fair way to retire the debt incurred to build and run the tollways.  But is it really?  People who cannot afford to pay the tolls to use the tollways are still required to pay the taxes to build them.  They have no choice.  Basically, it they refused to pay the taxes they would be heavily fined and if they didn’t pay the fines they would face the court system.  It costs money to face the court system.  Lots of money.  So, in reality they can’t fight the system (YCFCT).  They’re just stuck.  Screwed and stuck in traffic on “free” roads.

How are the tolls paid?
Well, if you have a credit card you can register it and the Tollway Authority will happily charge it (in advance) whenever your reserve drops below a minimum which they determine.  That could result in overlimit fees from your credit card company if you’re not careful.  In fact if you’re operating at close to your credit limit it could result in overlimit fees even if you are careful because they can hit your card when you’re least expecting it.

Or you could pay for the tolls using a debit/credit card and the money would just be drawn from your bank account – if you have enough money in your bank account that is.  Well, what if you don’t have enough money in your bank account?  Up until recently, your bank might have paid it anyway so that they could charge you an “overdraft fee”.  Usually $25-$40 for each transaction.  So a 75-cent toll ended up costing you maybe $40.75.  Each time.  Of course you don’t know that while you’re zipping down the tollway.  Who do you know who gets on the tollway and passes through only one toll plaza?  Nobody, that’s who.  It’s almost impossible to incur only one toll, so that short trip could end up costing over $100 when you consider overdraft fees.  Thankfully the banks cannot do that anymore.  Now, unless your have “overdraft protection” they just refuse the charge.  Ha ha NTTA you might think.  Not so fast there Sparky.  The tollway authorities will just bill you – at a rate higher than those who have a valid toll tag.  They make it very “convenient” to pay (read about my experience here) by allowing you to send a check, pay at their office, or charge your credit/debit card.  They bill you under the ZipCash banner.

ZipCash is a program whereby those poor saps who don’t have a tollway account are allowed the convenience of paying to use the road their tax dollars paid for.  Here’s how it works.  You enter the tollway system and their clever machines photograph your license plate each time you pass through a toll plaza.  Then they access the state computer system and determine who the owner of the car is (you) and send a bill to the address shown on your vehicle registration.  Pretty clever.  Clever and diabolical.  If for any reason you don’t get (lost mail, vacation, illness, family emergency, etc.) or pay your invoice they get progressively more draconian.  First a friendly reminder with a late fee is sent.  In order to encourage you not to continue to be in arrears they helpfully advise you to “Pay the total amount immediately to prevent incurring additional fines, citations or collection fees.”

  • additional fines – so the “Late Fee” is actually a fine and it has already been assessed. This is important because it allows for a “citation” – I think.
  • citations – a citation is what you get from a Police Officer when you are pulled over for a traffic violation.  It usually has a court appearance associated with it.  Failure to appear for the court date usually results in a “Failure to Appear” determination which can result in an Arrest Warrant.
  • collection fees – collection fees are what are assessed by Collection Agencies. Somewhere in the process they turn you over to a Collection Agency who harasses you until they collect while, in the meantime, ruining your credit.

So now your 75-cent toll (which resulted from travelling on a road which you paid taxes for each time you filled your car with gas or registered it) has turned into something with the potential of a jail sentence unless you immediately comply with the demands of the Tollway Authority Overlords.  This is put to you in the most courteous way possible in order that you might know that the tollway authority is customer-service-oriented.  Driving Friendly so-to-speak.

n the case of the Notice which prompted this screed I was helpfully advised that this matter could be cleared up immediately by sending a check, paying my invoice online or calling their office and presumably paying over the phone.

“Well what are you waiting for?” you might ask.  Just pay the invoice in the first place or barring that pay the reminder and fine and be done with it.  After all, the tollway authorities have gone to great lengths to make it easy to settle up.  You can:

  • pay by check – paying by check is not convenient in my case because I no longer use paper checks.  I pay my bills directly through my bank online.  It would also add the miniscule cost of a stamp and an envelope and I would not be assured that it either got there or was properly posted to my account in which case I would be facing the prospect of a court appearance or a collection agency.
  • pay by phone – waiting on hold for an agent is not a pleasant prospect to me.  Dealing with people for whom English is a second language is never pleasant to me.  Or people for whom English is the only language but is spoken in such a way as to be complete gibberish to my old ears is also unpleasant.
  • pay online – that’s for me!  I can do it at my convenience, get a printable piece of proof that it has been done and directly access my own account so that I know it has been properly posted.  I attempted that this morning.  Here you can read debacle in complete detail.

“Wow! You are such a complainer!” you might say.  “I’m sick of complainers without solutions.” you might say.  I agree.  I too am tired of the constant whining of people who complain but have no suggestions about how to fix the problem they are complaining about.  Accordingly, I have a suggestion.  There are probably many other suitable methods by which this “problem” could be solved, but here is one:

First a few preliminary requirements.  In order to legally operate a motor vehicle in the State of Texas you must have a valid drivers license, the vehicle must be properly registered and inspected, the vehicle must be insured and the vehicle must meet certain condition standards.

My suggestion is pretty simple.  At the time any of the following events take place any unpaid tolls (along with the maximum interest allowed by law) could be collected and remitted to the tollway authority.  A reasonable fee (refelective ot the actual time and effort involved) in the process of collecting on behalf of the tollway authorites could be added by the collecting party.

  • Vehicle Registration
  • Vehicle Inspection.
  • Drivers License renewal
  • Any Traffic Court appearance.

None of the above events would be completed without the payment of tolls owed.  The result of this suggestion would be that the tollways could be used by anyone and the tolls would be paid one way or the other.  The exorbitant fines, draconian collection measures, price-gouging and accompanying stress to the taxpayers who fund the tollways would come to an end.

So, just to follow through all the way to the end on this issue I’d like to tell you how my phone payment went.  I called and the agent was able to immediately find my invoice and verify that I had a valid Toll Tag account for the entire period covered by the invoice.  Fine.  Why then did I get a ZipCash invoice in the first place?  It turns out that the system which reads Toll Tags has a 5% failure rate.  That means that, on average, 5% of the time it fails to record your Toll Tag.  And that failure results in a ZipCash invoice.  AT THE 50% HIGHER RATE CHARGED TO ZIPCASH CUSTOMERS.  So if I hadn’t called they wouldn’t have discounted my invoice to reflect the validity of my Toll Tag and the failure of their system.  Instead, I got invoiced at the 50% higher rate and they warned me in BIG BOLD TEXT of the serious consequences associated with not paying the invoice in a timely manner.  Nowhere on the invoice am I told how to deal with it if the problem is their failure.  If this weren’t a quasi-government organization the Texas Attorney General would be all over them.  This all goes to show that there is truth to the expression “You can’t fight City Hall”.  They are a pack of corrupt thieves backed by an armed police force, and we’re complaining about the corruption in Mexico.  Hah!

I take full responsibility for my own opinions, comments and slurs against asshats.  I'm just another guy with just another opinion. Although, I may be turning into my father who my mother always said was 'the world's foremost authority."

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