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Toll enforcement system works in best interests of honest tollway users
Letter to the Editor
By Brian McPartlin | Guest Columnist
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Published: 1/15/2008 12:30 AM | Updated: 1/15/2008 10:08 AM

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McPartlin is Executive Director of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority

The Illinois Tollway exists to connect families and customers to businesses and people to jobs and destinations throughout Northern Illinois. Our commitment to customers is demonstrated by reducing congestion and improving convenience with Open Road Tolling, building new roads such as the I-355 South extension, and rebuilding and adding capacity to area roadways. Offering toll rates among the lowest nationwide -- an average 3 cents per mile for I-PASS users -- the Illinois Tollway remains an extraordinary value for 1.3 million daily drivers. Every toll collected contributes to the cost of snowplowing, construction, and maintaining the 286-mile network of roads connecting O'Hare to Will County, Rockford to Chicago, and Indiana to Wisconsin.

Unfortunately there are a small number of drivers who feel they don't need to pay. This is unacceptable and unfair to honest drivers. As a result, the Illinois Tollway developed a comprehensive violation enforcement system to identify cheaters and collect payment.

The Daily Herald's recent series about our violation enforcement system shortchanged readers. While it's fair to suggest that the tollway can improve its violation collection processes -- there's always room for improvement -- it's wrong to say the system is inequitable and inept.

The violation enforcement system has recouped more than $65 million since 2003 as part of our commitment to hardworking customers paying their fair share. The fines and penalties were approved by the Legislature, including provisions on due process and independent review. The process of separating cheaters from drivers who make honest mistakes is exhaustive -- as it should be. Missing one toll is not treated as a violation. However, miss three tolls or more and neglect to make a payment online, mail in a check or stop into our customer service centers to pay within the seven days -- you will be considered a violator.

I-PASS users can always work with customer representatives to resolve conflicting account information and return to healthy account status before violation fines are assessed. Violation notices are sent to the address drivers provided when registering their license plates with the Secretary of State. If a letter is returned undeliverable, we hold it and work to track down an alternate address. As for "bad" addresses, updating both license plate and driver's license records with current information is not always a priority for drivers.

So improving access to Secretary of State records and assisting in efforts to integrate the various records databases to ensure that the most current address information can be accessed continues to be a priority as we work with the Secretary of State and Legislature to make changes to correct the problem. License-plate reading technology is not perfect. But this technology is only a support tool and never has been utilized as the primary tool for identifying plates. Our system relies on human review to confirm license plate information and discard unreliable images. Regardless if drivers are in-state or out-of-state, the penalties for cheating are serious -- as they should be. Pay as you go or face $20 fines per unpaid toll -- raised to $70 for those who ignore the notices -- and referral to collection agencies.

We agree that it is in our customers' best interest to regularly review operations and improve accuracy, effectiveness and service, and we will continue those efforts. We respect the Daily Herald's role in the public process ensuring we do so. But the Daily Herald's analysis neglected the voice of the majority of customers that we serve -- the ones who pay their fair share and expect the Illinois Tollway to ensure toll cheats pay up. Our violation enforcement system is in place to serve the interests of those honest paying customers.