The North Texas Tollway Authority has been taking an increasingly punitive approach to chasing down toll scofflaws. First came the public shaming, then the lawsuits. Now, it could start impounding cars.
A bill to give the NTTA the power to block vehicle registrations and ban cars from its tollways (this is where the impoundment comes in) has sailed through the Texas House. It still needs a final OK from the Senate and Governor Perry's signature, but those are both formalities at this point. The Senate passed an almost identical version last month by a vote of 29-1.
The legislation limits the NTTA to going after drivers who have 100 or more unpaid tolls, which, you probably won't be surprised to learn, includes a quite a few people. Senator Kirk Watson, the Austin Democrat who authored the bill, notes that more than 100,000 drivers in North Texas have taken that many unauthorized trips, costing the NTTA more than $48 million since 2010. Eighty percent of those drivers use the tollroads daily.
So a lot of Dallas drivers could soon find themselves unable to renew their vehicle registration. It shouldn't come as a surprise, since the bill requires NTTA to send multiple notices and sets out an appeals process, but it probably will. If you've racked hundreds of dollars in tolls, you already probably ignore the NTTA envelopes that fill your mailbox.
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I've emailed an NTTA spokesman to see if the agency has plans for how it will handle its new powers. When it started filing lawsuits, it picked a relatively small number of people more or less at random. Of course, blocking registrations and banning cars are cheap and easy by comparison. Expect a lot more people to be affected.
Update at 2:28 p.m.: NTTA spokesman says he thinks the 100,000-plus number cited by Watson is a bit high. The NTTA list has only about 75,000 people who owe $51 million.
He issued the following statement to address the other questions:
At this point we are waiting to see what shape the bill takes in its final form if/when it is passed. The NTTA will consult with JPs, tax assessors and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to determine the number of registration blocks that will not to hamper their day to day proceedings.
Let's remember the goal of all dealings with scofflaws is to get people who chose the option of using the roadway to now pay their tolls. It would be far better for customers who have outstanding tolls to contact the NTTA to pay or work out a payment plan. If top violators will agree to get a TollTag, outstanding administrative fees can be negotiated downward considerably.