BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Marylanders now have nine extra months to pay their outstanding toll bills without running the risk of racking up late fees.
The Maryland Transportation Authority Board on Thursday approved a new plan that establishes a grace period for unpaid tolls, waiving civil penalties for anyone who pays their outstanding bills in full by Dec. 1.
Unpaid tolls will not be referred to the MDTA's collections unit or the Motor Vehicle Administration during the grace period, which runs Feb. 24 through Nov. 30.
The MDTA board made it clear that the customer assistance plan is not a forgiveness program—MDTA will resume referrals of unpaid tolls and late fees to collections and the MVA once the grace period runs out.
Additionally, residents will not be reimbursed for civil penalty payments made or mailed before Feb. 24, and there will be no refunds for those found liable in court.
Maryland Transportation Secretary James F. Ports, Jr., the board's chairman, said the customer assistance plan is responsive to requests from customers and Gov. Larry Hogan to explore ways to give drivers a break.
"The plan gives Marylanders plenty of time, more than nine months, to pay toll bills without having to worry about additional penalties or other consequences," he said.
In early 2020, the MDTA switched to electronic billing to protect toll collectors and drivers from COVID-19. The MDTA also paused processing of certain transactions, deferring bills for months.
But in recent months, customers have begun receiving those bills, some of which added up to thousands of dollars.
"Each citation includes a $25 civil penalty," resident Tiffany Pruitt said. "Some people aren't going to be able to put food on the table."
The agency said its working with its vendor, E-Z Pass, to develop payment plan opportunities, so drivers can pay their bills in installments, though that process could take time.
"Potential payment plan options would require several actions, such as getting a signed agreement with our vendor," MDTA Acting Executive Director Will Pines said.
The MDTA also plans to shore up its customer service staffing to reduce wait times for assistance over the phone and online.
According to the MDTA, the plan will not have an influence on the posting of backlogged tolls, which will continue to be posted into the summer months.
It's worth mentioning that until mid-March, civil penalties will continue to show up on customers' accounts until a software change is completed, at which point the fee waiver will be reflected.
During Thursday's board meeting, Pines estimated that of roughly 125 million transactions a year, 83,000 people currently have unpaid civil penalties.
About 95% of drivers have paid their toll bills on time, MDTA Chief Financial Officer Deb Sharpless noted.
"Potential payment plan options would require several actions, such as getting a signed agreement with our vendor," Pines said.
Below is a timeline of key dates to know about if you're an E-Z Pass customer:
- Payments made before Feb. 24: Civil penalties that are already paid will not be reimbursed.
- Payments made Feb. 24 through Nov. 30: For every unpaid toll transaction paid in full, the corresponding civil penalty will be waived. Additionally, no toll debt will be referred to CCU or MDOT MVA.
- Feb. 24 to mid-March: Civil penalties will be waived for each paid toll, but civil penalties remain on accounts until the software changes are in place to reflect the waiver.
- Mid-March: The system functionality for the waiver grace period will be completed, allowing customers to confirm online that their penalties are being waived following full toll payment.
- Nov. 30 at 11:59 p.m.: Civil penalty waiver grace period ends.
- Dec. 1: All unpaid tolls AND civil penalties are due based on the printed due dates, and toll debt referrals to CCU and MDOT MVA resume.
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