In late December 2010, I received a "Notice of Toll Evasion" in the mail from FasTrak in San Francisico. Someone had driven through a toll booth on November 26th without paying. It was a Ford with California license plate 5UFE398. But I don't own that car, and never have owned that car, and I have never driven that car. Why should I pay toll evasion penalties from a car I don't drive or own?
First, I tried to call FasTrak. If you dial the number they provide on the "Notice of Toll Evasion", you get an automated phone tree, and no options allow you to speak directly to a person.
So, next I went to www.bayareafastrak.org to see how I could make contact. They have a page specifically where you can contest a violation notice, so I filled out their online form, explaining I don't own the vehicle. I asked them to call me, and explain how they got my name and address. They did not call back, but sent an e-mail saying I still had to pay. They even disabled the online form so I could not repeat my request for a phone call.
Next, I thought that I would send a letter explaining the situation. So I filled out the "Contested Notice of Toll Evasion" on the back of the toll evasion notice, and sent it to the FasTrak office with my letter. They promptly replied with a form letter saying that I still had to pay the fine, or send them $29 for an "administrative review". They also sent me a "Second Notice" of toll evasion, and added additional penalties, totaling $74.
On Friday soon after the second notice, I came home, opened my mailbox, and found it completely full of toll evasion notices from FasTrak. There were over 50. Each notice was for a different time that this vehicle crossed the bridge, starting around Thanksgiving. On most days, they crossed the bridge twice and never paid the toll. Each toll violation was at least $29. That was over $1500 worth of tolls and fines they wanted me to pay! And to make things worse, FasTrak was threatening "DMV Action" if I did not pay, including stopping me from registering my vehicles, or renewing my driver's license.
Ironically, these 50 toll evasion notices had my last name spelled wrong, and stated the car was a BMW, even though the Ford emblem was clearly visible in the photo included with each notice.
Now I'm completely incensed by FasTrak's accusations, their attempt to block any due process without a $29 payment, and their strong arm extortion tactics. I called the number, and just held down the "0" in frustration. Magically, I was connected to a person. I was very angry, and got nowhere with them. They insisted that I was the owner of the vehicle, and said they would not correct the mistake unless I provided a "release of liability" from DMV for the car.
Monday I call DMV. After 30 minutes, I am connected to a person and I explained my problem. After telling her the license plate number, she tells me I don't own it, and I cannot get a release of liability. Because of state law, she cannot tell me who the registered owner of the vehicle is, either. Next I call the DMV investigations office in San Francisco looking for advice, and was told once again that I did not own the car. The investigator also confirmed that there should not be any confusion between my name and address, and that of the registered owner. Just fill out form INF-70 and send it to Sacramento DMV with the $10 fee to get the owner's name and vehicle ownership history.
Throughout the week, I have several conversations with people at FasTrak, and try to find an alternative solution to the "release of liability" they want. After several days of talking to me, they stopped the accusations, and started to return my phone calls. But, they claim to have "official paperwork from DMV" that states I am the owner of the vehicle. And they cannot send me a copy of that paperwork; I will have to subpoena the documents to get them. (The paperwork would explain a lot, and may prove someone is committing fraud to avoid paying tolls.)
But, if I can provide any documentation from DMV that states I am not the owner, FasTrak promises to exonerate me. I fill out the INF-70 form from DMV and send it to Sacramento to get the registered owner's name. But why can't FasTrak do that themselves? They refuse to try, and even refuse to contact the police.
Thursday I went to the DMV field office in Los Gatos thinking I would stand in line without an appointment, but was refered to the DMV investigations office in Campbell. The person there was very helpful, and directed me to file a complaint about FasTrak. They also provided the phone number of the DMV law office, and recommened that I try to subpoena the FasTrak file. This DMV investigations office had handled a problem like this before, but was overwhelmed with work and could not immediately handle the problem.
At the end of the week I get over 60 more toll violations in the mail from FasTrak, for a grand total of 116. Now the total amount of money they want is around $3500. Later, I noticed many of these were duplicates of the originals. They had just corrected the spelling of my last name, corrected the make of the vehicle from BMW to Ford, and effectively were double-billing me for many of the same toll evasions. I learn that FasTrak is run by a company called ACS State and Local Solutions, who is a private company contracted by the Bay Area Transit Authority and the state to collect tolls. I suspect their only incentive is to maximize the amount of money they collect for the State of California, and they are probably paid on commission. For this point on, I do not support any effort to privative any government function.
Monday, I went to see a lawyer to understand what it meant to subpoena the file, and how to do it. He said it would be cost prohibitive to use him to subpoena the file. His advice was to pursue a solution through DMV, file a police report, and consider contacting a consumer advocate in the media, such as "5 On Your Side".
Tuesday, my next stop was DMV, for an appointment that I had made when this all started. The information I got there wasn't any different than what I got over the phone. The DMV technician confirmed that I did not own the vehicle, and had never owned the vehicle. I asked him what police department I should contact to file a complaint about the registered owner. He said the police would send me back to DMV, and he gave me a copy of the form to send into DMV headquarters to get the name of the registered owner.
Just to see what would happen, I went directly to the San Jose Police department, explained the situation, and gave the officer a copy of one of the toll violation notices. He pulled up the information for the vehicle, and told me "You don't own that car!", and apologized for not being able to provide me with the name of the registered owner. He also refused to open a complaint because I did not have the paperwork that could prove fraud.
I have to stop here, but rest assured that I haven't given up. The pursuit of justice continues through other channels, and I hope this may get resolved soon. I'll let you know how everything turns out.