Don’t bill TriEx drivers for tolls less than $5, Stam says

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comApril 16, 2013 

— While state Rep. Paul Stam has a bill in the legislature that might keep some drivers from paying tolls to the N.C. Turnpike Authority, he also has a tip that might drum up more turnpike business from toll-paying drivers.

Stam is pushing a bill that would stop the agency from mailing bills to any Triangle Expressway driver until the driver racks up tolls of at least $5. He thinks it’s silly to make toll-road drivers write checks for as little as 45 cents – just to avoid being hit with late fees for as much as $25.

“It seems an economic waste for y’all to mail it,” Stam, an Apex Republican, said Tuesday to Raleigh lawyer Perry Safran, vice chairman of the Turnpike Authority. “It’s bound to cost a dollar to mail a bill, 45 cents to mail it back, plus the person’s time.”

But Stam told Safran he would drop the legislation if the Turnpike Authority came up with its own solution to end the proliferation of toll bills for amounts that can be less than the price of postage. Safran nodded his head.

“Our next meeting is May 2, and I’m trying to get it on the agenda,” Safran said.

Safran and state Department of Transportation officials were at the legislature to hear Stam pitch his proposal to the House Transportation Committee. The bills are mailed to drivers based on photos of their license plates. The legislation filed by Stam and his fellow sponsor, Rep. Tom Murry of Morrisville, would not affect drivers who pay with debit accounts keyed to their N.C. Quick Pass transponders.

But it could have a big impact on how the turnpike agency does business, because most of the bills it sends out are for less than $5. The average bill is around $1.80, Murry said.

Stam acknowledged that, under his proposal, some TriEx drivers would never reach that $5 minimum – so they would never be asked to pay their tolls.

“Only the person who only goes once or twice,” Stam said. “It doesn’t say you get it free. It just says you don’t get your first bill until all your bills add up to $5.”

While he had Safran’s attention, Stam pulled out a pencil and paper to pitch another idea.

He drew a north-south line for N.C. 55 and a second line to show TriEx intersecting N.C. 55 near Research Triangle Park, before it curves south toward Apex and Holly Springs. As TriEx drivers approach the interchange, exit signs tell them to take N.C. 55 north to Durham or south to Apex.

“But that’s not the way to go to Apex, now that (TriEx) is finished down here,” Stam told Safran, sketching as he spoke. “The three Apex exits are down here. So if they’re really going to Apex, you’d get more tolls and people would get off 55 – if you weren’t directing them to Apex.”

And that was his tip for the Turnpike Authority: Get rid of the big green exit sign telling toll-road drivers they can get to Apex on N.C. 55, toll-free. Stam said he had explained his idea to DOT officials three times, without result.

Safran chuckled respectfully.

“All right, OK,” Safran told Stam. “I see what you’re saying.”

Many TriEx drivers have complained about small toll bills and big late fees. But later Tuesday afternoon, Safran and DOT officials persuaded Stam and Murry to postpone a committee vote on the $5 toll-bill measure.

Mark Foster, DOT’s chief financial officer, said the delay will give turnpike officials a chance to check for possible legal and financial issues that could arise.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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