ARLINGTON - North Texas Tollway Authority officials made headlines this week when they released the names of nearly 26,000 motorists who had refused to pay 100 or more tolls. But the agency's crackdown on scofflaws is far from over.
The Plano-based tollway authority also plans to ask the Texas Legislature's permission to begin "booting" cars owned by people who haven't paid their tolls. The system would work much like enforcement actions in many cities with parking meters. If someone gets tickets at expired meters and refuses to pay the fines, a boot order is issued and the next time the vehicle is caught in a parking space a giant, metal object is clamped onto one of the vehicle's wheels - making it impossible to drive away.
The offender then has to go to court and make good on the past-due account before getting the boot removed from his or her ride.
"It's probably a last resort, but for those who have seen 'Parking Wars,' it's probably an effective tool," tollway authority executive director Gerry Carrigan told members of the Regional Transportation Council Thursday during a meeting in Arlington. Carrigan was referring to the A&E television show "Parking Wars," which follows officers along on parking enforcement patrols that often lead to conflicts with stressed-out car owners.
The tollway authority also plans to ask the Lege permission to block annual vehicle registration renewals of those who refuse to pay their bills on the Dallas-Fort Worth tollway system. Such a practice is already in place in Houston's Harris County, but in North Texas legislative action is required because the tollway authority crosses the boundaries of four counties.
Car owners who repeatedly refuse to pay tolls also would be "banned" from using the tollway system in the future, and the most egregious users could face lawsuits.
Cracking down on those with past-due tolls has become an issue since 2010, when the entire tollway system was converted to all-electronic. Most regular users place a TollTag on their windshield, and deduct tolls through a pre-paid account. Others can then simply drive the tollways, and a camera system takes pictures of their license plates and sends them a bill. But that camera system has left the tollway authority vulnerable to motorists who use the pavement with no intention of ever paying.
An estimated $12.5 million in past-due tolls is outstanding, officials say.
Regional transportation leaders support the tollway authority's stepped-up collection efforts.
Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said his staff recently heard support for cracking down on scofflaws during public meetings in which the need for additional transportation funding was discussed. One controversial topic point was the possibility that annual registration fees might be raised to increase revenue for road work and other transportation projects.
"What we heard was, why aren't you guys enforcing what' s already out there before you ask us for more?" Morris said. "Why don't people have car insurance? How do people drive around with an unregistered vehicle? Why don't they have driver's licenses?"
Fort Worth Transportation Authority board member Gary Cumbie added: "These are not people just beating an agency out of its money. This is the region's money. This is money used to build our transportation needs. It's our money."