The names of roughly 26,000 vehicle owners who haven't paid their tolls will be published soon on the North Texas Tollway Authority's website, in an attempt to get the scofflaws to settle their accounts. The list will highlight the top 100 violators, followed by a searchable database that includes anyone with more than 100 past-due tolls. The precise total would vary each day, an official said, but at the moment about 26,000 car owners have that many overdue tolls.
Officials at the agency also pledged to begin pursuing civil lawsuits against the most egregious violators, many of whom have ignored past-due notices and collection attempts for months or even years.
"The focus here is on the repeat toll violators. We are drawing a line," legal counsel Thomas Bamonte told the tollway authority board during a meeting Wednesday in Plano. "These are folks who had plenty of opportunity to pay."
The board authorized Bamonte and its other staff to put together and publish the database, which could be on the agency's website - www.ntta.org - as soon as July. Additional legal counsel will be brought in to help sort through the massive database of overdue accounts, and determine which cases are ready to be taken to either district court or a justice of the peace.
Bamonte didn't specify how many names might be on the list originally. But after the meeting, tollway authority spokesman Michael Rey said a good rough estimate is about 26,000 names. Collectively, those vehicle owners owe the agency about $12.5 million in past-due tolls.
Past-due collections have become a bigger issue since the region's tollway system was converted to all-electronic, and the toll booths were removed or boarded up. Most regular tollway users attach a TollTag device to their windshield, which allows money to be withdrawn automatically through a prepaid account as they drive past toll collection gantries on the roads. For those without a TollTag, a camera system takes pictures of their license plates, and using address information from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles sends the registered owner of the vehicle a bill in the mail.
Several Tarrant County residents have complained about receiving past-due notices for tolls from a collection agency, after the original bills were sent to an old address. But the most wanted list will only include motorists who have accumulated more than 100 tolls and ignored collection calls, Rey said.
Some board members asked if the staff had properly vetted issues related to the confidentiality of vehicle registration information. Bamonte said the tollway authority will publish only limited information about the scofflaws, including the vehicle owner's name, city and state of residence, ZIP code, amount owed and number of violations.
The goal is less about shaming the violators, and more about putting them on notice that the tollway authority is serious about collecting debts, officials said. "We want everyone to know they are subject to enforcement," Bamonte said.
But one board member said he wouldn't mind dispensing a little frontier-style justice on those who use the region's toll roads with no intention of paying.
"I come down on the side of hammering these people, not being so nice about it," said board member William Elliott, a Dallas-area lawyer who lives in the Fannin County community of Ravenna and was appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Perry.
Tollway vice chairman Bill Moore of Plano added: "Hopefully this is going to stimulate a wave of calls from people wanting to settle their tolls."
The tollway authority board also approved a legislative program for the 2013 general session that includes asking lawmakers' permission to block vehicle registration renewals for car owners with overdue toll accounts - a practice already in place in Houston, they said.