Amanda Ferguson, 42, of Echo Park, on May 30 received in the mail a toll road ticket for driving on the 110 in South L.A.
She is upset. But not so much about the ticket as its due date -- May 30, the same day the ticket arrived in the mail. Had she failed to pay the $3.05 due on that very day, she would have owed $28.05 for being "late."
Many people are angry about the new tolls and surprise tickets. Sometimes motorists don't even realize they were on a toll road until the demand for payment arrives in the mail.
I don't have a problem paying the $3 fine. It doesn't seem reasonable to demand payment on the same day it arrived.
I was frustrated because I wasn't given time to understand what the violation was about. A few days notice would be good to open the mail, send out a check for what was being asked.
We went to the MetroExpressLanes.net website and found this Metro rule about how the fees work:
All vehicles traveling on the Metro ExpressLanes must have a FasTrak® transponder.
On the I-110, vehicles with two or more occupants per vehicle will be able to continue using the Metro ExpressLanes toll-free.
On the I-10, vehicles with three or more occupants will be able to use Metro ExpressLanes toll-free at all hours. Vehicles with two occupants will pay a toll during peak hours (5 a.m.-9 a.m.; 4 p.m.-7 p.m.), but will have toll-free use during off-peak hours.
She drove with a passenger on the 105, then the 110, as she returned home from LAX the morning of May 13, the date of her violation. She didn't have the FasTrak "transponder" required of all motorists who use the experimental, congestion-priced route that has been in effect since November. She didn't even know she was on a toll road because -- lucky woman -- she very seldom has to actually drive on the crammed 110.
Her ticket, for "toll evasion," showed she used the 110 northbound between Slauson Avenue and 39th Street, a section of about 1.6 miles designated as part of a Metro Express Lane.
Rick Jager, a Metro spokesman, had a curious response to Ferguson's ticket, which was due to be paid to Metro pretty much right that minute, or else:
"She is lucky she didn't get a ticket from CHP. That would be hundreds of dollars."
Jager said he couldn't comment on who is responsible for what happened to Ferguson, explaining that he didn't know who delivered her mail or where she lived. Then he added this second, curious, comment:
"I don't know how the mailing system works," Jager said.
Notices of toll evasions are sent out up to seven days before the penalty is due, according to Jager. In Ferguson's case, her ticket was dated May 23, 2013, which is seven days before the penalty was due, even if it didn't arrive until the deadline.
By the end of the day on May 30, Ferguson had paid the $3-odd fine by calling customer service for the Metro Express Lanes.
Here's the next curious part: The postage on her envelope was dated May 28, one day after the Memorial Day weekend. Yet along the top of the envelope, a machine has printed a different date: May 29. Ferguson checked her mail on May 29 and didn't have the ticket. She got it on May 30.
Many people are sick of the confusing tolls, the late mail and the government-ese responses from Metro.
On MetroExpressLanes Facebook page we found these recent comments:
"I hope this pilot program crashes and burns. Take lanes that have been free for years, and start charging for them. And send $50 fines to someone (me) who accidentally strays into the lane out of force of habit, after having driven in those lanes on the weekend for 15 years (at 11 p.m. when there's no traffic)." (Brad Horstkotte/Facebook)
"I made good time on the eastbound 10 tollway yesterday, using the express lanes to get to the 605. The signage clearly displayed the cost, but failed to tell me the entire onramp to the 605 North was closed." (Richard Yaussi/Facebook)
"I understand that there is a battery inside these transponders that should last four or more years. Have these batteries been thoroughly tested to ensure that they will not catch fire when sitting in the sun and the temperature inside the vehicle rises to 150 degrees?" (Paul Eddie Cline/Facebook)
The Metro Express Lanes on the 110 transitway stretch about 11 miles between Adams Boulevard and Harbor Gateway Transit Center. On the 10's El Monte Busway, they stretch about 14 miles between Alameda Street and the 605, according to MetroExpressLanes.net.
To avoid fines, any car using Metro Express Lanes must have a FasTrak transponder.
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The fee for driving on the Metro Express Lanes ranges from 25 cents to $1.40 per mile depending on the level of traffic congestion. The more congested, the higher the price per mile.
If you want to join the party, here's what it costs to obtain a transponder.
According to MetroExpressLanes.net:
Credit/Debit Card Accounts: An initial prepaid toll deposit of $40 per transponder is required to open an account. The $25 transponder deposit will be waived. If the FasTrak® is not returned in good working condition when the account is closed, a $25 fee will be charged to the account.
Cash/Check Accounts: An initial prepaid toll deposit of $50 per transponder and a per-transponder deposit of $25 will be required to open an account. When the account is closed and the transponder is returned in good working condition, the $25 deposit will be returned.
For those commuters who qualify for our equity plan, a one-time $25 discount will be applied to their account.