Toll roads are becoming so prominent in Dallas-Fort Worth, with almost 1,000 miles of toll lanes including the new Chisholm Trail Parkway open or under construction, that it makes sense to sign up for the toll tag program.Because if you don’t, they will find you.The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) recently sent out around 500,000 bills to those who traveled on their roads going back to January 2012 and haven’t paid up. The bills represented 1.5 million transactions.As a result, the authority’s phone lines have been jammed.“We are overwhelmed,” said Michael Ray, spokesman for the NTTA. This week, the authority extended call center hours until midnight. Next week, the extended hours will be until 10 p.m., he said.The bills are going out for two reasons: a switch in the monthly billing system to consolidate invoices and a new agreement with the state of Oklahoma to exchange databases, Ray said.The new billing system will consolidate tolls into a monthly bill instead of individual invoices for those who don’t use a toll tag. The new system has made it efficient for the NTTA to lower the number of tolls required before a driver is billed, from four or five down to three or $2.50 worth of tolls, Ray said. NTTA applied that new threshold to bills dating back to January 2012 and generated the hundreds of thousands of new bills. The agreement with Oklahoma also caused the billing system to spit out 78,000 bills for drivers in that state who have used North Texas toll roads since 2012, Ray said. Texas and Oklahoma now share databases of car tag numbers and owner addresses to send toll bills to the drivers.“Between 45 to 50 percent of our out-of-state plates are from Oklahoma,” Ray said. By next month, Texans will be able to use NTTA toll tags on toll roads in Oklahoma.I personally received a notice for two tolls totaling a whopping $3.15 from January and April 2012, despite owning a toll tag on our cars since that year.After several attempts to get through on NTTA’s customer service line last week and then being put on hold for about 15 minutes, I finally reached a service representative.He informed me that my toll tag was purchased after those tolls were incurred and then moved the tolls fees to be processed by my toll tag account. I received a break of $1.50 off my original bill for using my toll tag. (Billed customers pay 50 percent more than toll tag customers.)The NTTA caught up with my father at his assisted-living center in Tulsa for a toll bill he incurred in June 2013 when he came down for my son’s graduation.“The letter was pretty sternly written,” Dad said. “What are they going to do? Send the Texas Rangers after me?”Ray said no Texas Rangers would be sent to Oklahoma. But if the toll isn’t paid in 30 days, a $10 administrative fee will be added. On the second notice of nonpayment, another $25 fee will be added. By 90 days and a third notice, you could face $64 worth of administrative fees. After that, legal action could be started.If you are a habitual violator (generally owe $100 or more in toll fines), a new state law allows the NTTA to give your name to local tax offices to block your vehicle registration next time it’s up for renewal. The agency sent recently notices to 32,675 habitual violators in eight counties in the area, including 4,050 in Tarrant County, the Star-Telegram reported earlier this month.Now that the Chisholm Trail tollway is up and running, Ray encourages Tarrant County motorists to consider signing up for the toll tag.“We have an entire new audience with the Chisholm Trail open,” he said. “They may have had no need to have a toll tag before, but suddenly it makes sense now.”Of the 625 million total toll transactions in 2014 through NTTA toll roads, 80 percent were made with vehicles with toll tags, Ray said.With a savings of up to 50 percent on tolls, Tarrant County drivers should consider it.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net