Metropolitan Transportation Authority - Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority


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Metropolitan Transportation Authority - Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority
Efforts to Collect Tolls and Fees Using License Plate Images and Law Firms

Issued: July 11, 2018
Link to full audit report 2017-S-70
Link to 90-day response

To determine whether the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) has taken action to collect unpaid tolls and fees using outside law firms and to minimize unbillable toll transactions. The audit covered the period January 1, 2013 to August 20, 2017.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is a public benefit corporation chartered by the New York State Legislature. TBTA, also known as MTA Bridges and Tunnels, is an MTA agency that operates seven toll bridges and two tunnels that interconnect parts of New York City. Created in 1933, TBTA serves more than 310 million vehicles per year and carries more traffic than any other bridge or tunnel authority in the nation. Toll revenues from TBTA help subsidize MTA’s transit and commuter rail services. TBTA’s total operating revenue for 2016 was approximately $1.9 billion.

In November 2012, TBTA implemented the All Electronic Tolling (AET) system at the Henry Hudson Bridge (HHB) as an efficient way to collect tolls, provide seamless travel for drivers, and benefit the environment. While the toll booths remained, there were no Bridge and Tunnel Officers for toll collection or other services. Under AET, as the driver drove through channelized gates and lanes, the E-ZPass would be read and images would be taken of the front and rear of the vehicle (to capture the license plates). E-ZPass is an electronic toll collection system that allows customers to either prepay their tolls or automatically have tolls charged to a checking account at the end of the day. As of November 2016, the HHB moved to the Open Road Tolling (ORT) system; the toll booths and gates were removed and a gantry system was installed, meaning drivers no longer needed to slow down.

In both systems, tolls are collected through E-ZPass and Tolls by Mail. (All vehicles traveling through a crossing without an E-ZPass transponder will be sent a toll bill for facility usage.) For Tolls by Mail, the license plate images are used to retrieve the motorist’s registration information in order to mail the bill. ORT was extended to the other eight TBTA crossings throughout 2017.

TBTA defines “leakage” or “rejected images” as transactions that cannot be collected. Examples include license plate images that are not captured or are illegible, and legible license plate images for which TBTA does not have an agreement with the out-of-state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to get the registered owner’s address for billing purposes.

As of November 2016, the ORT in-lane toll collection system captures up to six images per vehicle (two front and four rear); however, the E-ZPass New York Customer Service Center (NYCSC) accepts only two (one front and one rear). The vendor capturing the images selects the “best” front and rear images and sends them to the NYCSC system electronically, where they are reviewed to identify the license plate and state associated with the vehicle. If either of these cannot be identified, the image is “rejected.” NYCSC labels rejected images with codes from three different categories: Maintenance, Non-Maintenance, and Not-Defined. The Maintenance category includes system hardware issues that can be fixed by TBTA or its system contractor.

Accounts with uncollected tolls for over 90 days are sent to a collection agency, while those with balances of $2,300 or more are reassigned to outside counsel. On February 7, 2013, TBTA retained the services of one firm (Firm A) solely to prepare a prototype complaint to pursue action against a persistent violator, and to create a model for future lawsuits. TBTA ended its agreement with Firm A on April 7, 2016. On January 10, 2014, TBTA entered into retainer agreements with two other firms (Firm B and Firm C) to perform legal services on an “as-needed” basis. The agreements state: “The services of counsel shall generally consist of taking legal action against TBTA patrons that demonstrate a lack of responsiveness to efforts to collect unpaid tolls and E-ZPass violation administrative fees and other amounts due.”

Key Findings

We found that TBTA did not maximize toll collection because license plate images could not always be processed, resulting in potential lost revenue of $2.4 million. The number of unbilled toll transactions increased exponentially during 2017 as ORT expanded to all TBTA facilities and will likely increase in the future as ORT is now systemwide. Additionally, TBTA’s contracted law firms were not effective in collecting outstanding receivables from persistent toll violators.

Key Recommendations

  • Improve NYCSC access to the complete image files to decrease leakage.
  • Periodically review and monitor the rejected image review process to ensure staff is accurately categorizing the rejected images.
  • Require entities in TBTA’s Fleet Program to register their trailers so that they can be charged if the registration information from the power unit cannot be identified. Collect and analyze the information for any usage patterns of unbillable tractor trailers that are not part of a Fleet Program. Use these results to identify and contact the trailer owner and to request information about the owner of the tractor.
  • Require that the vendor take action (and document such actions) to obtain temporary license plate registration information from out-of-state DMVs.
  • Document the review of reports sent by NYCSC to show what, if anything, was done to correct identified maintenance issues.
  • Document the business practice changes as a result of transitioning from outside to in-house counsel, prepare cost-benefit analysis, and establish a completion date for the transition. Perform periodic audits of the outside counsels’ invoices as outlined in the retainer agreements.

Other Related Audit/Report of Interest

Metropolitan Transportation Authority - Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority: Selected Aspects of Collection of Bridge and Tunnel Tolls and Fees (2016-S-64)

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email:
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236