New rules for North Texas Tollway Authority toll fees

Taking a chapter directly from the award-winning book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, here’s how 160 people can make a difference.

For the past year, Watchdog Nation urged anyone who believed they were unfairly charged by the North Texas Tollway Authority to complain to state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

The final total of complainers was 160. We know that because throughout the legislative history of Senate Bill 469, there were numerous references made in descriptions of the bill to “160 constituents” who contacted Nelson about NTTA problems.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

As readers of the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first learned, we gave the senator the ammunition she needed for change.


Dave Lieber’s book explains how to do this in a chapter titled:

Make a difference by getting involved

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Most of these organizations have a national headquarters and then state and even local chapters.

These groups would love for you to volunteer and help them achieve their pro-consumer goals.

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The only counterbalance to big money/backroom power plays are these citizen action groups. Your work with them can make a big difference.


Use an Internet search engine to find a group that is dedicated to fighting a problem that interests you. Type in words like “citizens group” or “consumer rights” and the name of the company or industry involved.

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Most of these North Texas constituents had the same complaint: Tolls costing several dollars had mushroomed into invoices with hundreds of dollars in penalties. Many complainants swore they never received original toll bills in the mail. Some were stunned to learn their cases led to warrants for their arrest. One single mom who said she never got a bill actually went to jail.

Nelson wrote a bill reining in the agency’s byzantine billing practices by placing a cap on the amount that could be charged. Her bill passed the Senate 31-0 and the House 142-0. Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law.

The bill caps the charge for an additional administrative fee at $25 for each unpaid toll invoice, not to exceed $200. Previously, the NTTA charged $25 for every unpaid toll transaction. (A single invoice could contain dozens of toll transactions.)

Bills sometimes ran up to $500 or even a $1,000 or more, based on only a few unpaid bills for inexpensive toll road trips.

The NTTA manages and builds area toll roads. Under its cashless system, toll booths were removed and drivers who do not have TollTags on their front windshields are mailed bills (after five transactions) to the address associated with a vehicle’s license plate.

In June 2011, Nelson said, “This bill protects toll road users from excessive administration fees while still allowing the North Texas Tollway Authority tools to collect delinquent violations. I filed this bill in response to an overwhelming number of complaints from drivers who were furious over exorbitant fees and penalties.”

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, also worked for the bill’s passage.

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Sallie Griffith, a Fort Worth toll road user, testified before a Senate committee on behalf of the bill. After paying a $23 toll bill late, she received “repetitious and confusing” bills, each for a higher amount because of penalties. Her bill came to $954.

Last week she said she was happy with the new bill. “I knew that something needed to be done. It just shows that if people stand up for what they think is right, things can be changed. They can make a difference.”

The NTTA told me last week that the bill “revises the NTTA’s toll collection process, but also protects the NTTA’s paying customers.” The authority is reviewing its billing process and customer service practices to ensure compliance should the bill become law.

“It remains the authority’s goal to collect the tolls for travel on the NTTA system and to encourage all customers to pay on time any fees and fines,” NTTA spokeswoman Susan Slupecki said.

Nelson’s bill originally capped the maximum fee at $25. But NTTA lobbyists managed to water it down in the House and got the cap raised to $200. Still, any kind of cap saves drivers money.

The Watchdog urges anyone who drives on area toll roads to purchase a TollTag for their windshield and make sure there’s enough money in the account to cover charges. That’s what most drivers do.

Remember that it costs half as much to drive on an NTTA toll road with a TollTag as it does to use the NTTA’s pay-by-mail ZipCash system.

To avoid problems, make sure the state Department of Motor Vehicles has the correct mailing address tied to your license plate so any bills arrive at the correct address.

The legislation, if signed into law, will take effect Sept. 1. Before that, though, on July 1, the NTTA is raising its toll charges from 14.5 cents per mile to 15.3 cents.

In the years ahead the NTTA, a quasi-government agency, is set to become even more powerful in North Texas. If they use the toll roads regularly, families could pay hundreds of dollars a month in toll charges.

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Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

Read The Watchdog Nation manifesto here!

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Read previous Watchdog Nation stories about the NTTA:

North Texas Tollway Authority faces legal clampdown

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

After years of treating complaining drivers as if they don’t matter, the monolithic and mostly unregulated North Texas Tollway Authority finds itself pushed up against the wall in the Texas Legislature. It’s not fun on the other side.

Now is the time, if ever, to stop excessive billing practices by the North Texas Tollway Authority

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Two North Texas Tollway Authority customers say they tried to pay their bills, but the NTTA sent them to collection agencies anyway

North Texas Tollway Authority unhappy with our report about woman thrown in jail

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

The North Texas Tollway Authority — NTTA — disputes in detail the recent Dave Lieber report about the single mom who was tossed in jail for 27 hours because of unpaid toll road fines she says she never received. Read the NTTA’s full response and Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber’s response.

Woman goes to jail for unpaid toll bill she says she never received

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

A Texas woman is arrested and thrown in jail for 27 hours. Her crime? She owed an $11 toll road bill that she didn’t pay. She says she never received the notices from the North Texas Tollway Authority. The authority’s chairman says he didn’t know the authority was behind tossing people into jail. A Texas state senator promises to go after the tollway for abusive fine procedures.

Watchdog Nation says: Give ‘em hell, Victor!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

If you hate toll roads, this little story is for you.

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North Texas Tollway Authority faces legal clampdown

Remember the good old days when a motorist drove through a tollbooth and handed over change? Ever since the North Texas Tollway Authority went modern and started billing drivers who don’t have a TollTag, problems have arisen. Ask Sallie Griffith of Fort Worth.

She got up at 3 a.m. recently to drive to Austin to testify before a Senate committee looking at a measure to rein in the authority’s billing powers.

At the hearing, she testified that after paying a $23 toll bill late, she continued to receive “repetitious and confusing” bills, each for a higher amount because of penalties. Eventually, her $23 check was returned as unacceptable because her fines reached $954. She was told she had to pay in person. She negotiated the penalties down to $446.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

“People feel a little ripped off,” she said. “I definitely agree that people need to pay their fines, but $900 on $24? That’s just insane.”

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Griffith was one of 160 Texans who followed The Watchdog’s advice and wrote Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to complain about the authority’s billing practices.

Her early morning drive paid off. On Thursday, Nelson’s bill to limit billing practices — co-sponsored by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — was approved by a committee and sent to the full Senate for a vote. A similar bill has been offered in the House by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington.

Senate Bill 469 would limit the authority to one $25 invoice fee for drivers who pay within 30 days of receiving a notice regardless of the number of missed tolls. Fees would be capped at $225 on a second notice.

Nelson said she is fighting the authority’s practice of allowing “relatively small unpaid toll bills to balloon into invoices totaling hundreds — in some cases thousands — of dollars.”

A spokeswoman for the authority said it supports the Senate bill.

The authority says penalties for late payments and other administrative fees account for 4 percent of revenue. Nelson’s legislation would undoubtedly cut that revenue.

The authority is being attacked on several fronts.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, has introduced a bill that would require the authority to be reviewed by the state Sunset Advisory Commission before 2013. State agencies must face sunset reviews every so often. They often force changes in practices and, in rare cases, can lead to an agency’s dissolution.

More state oversight is also the goal of a bill offered by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, that would subject the authority to state audits as if it were a state agency.

Also, a federal lawsuit filed in Dallas on behalf of four drivers says the authority is illegally assessing late penalties for all unpaid tolls, even when the tolls are combined into a single invoice. Lawyer Thomas Corea hopes to have the lawsuit certified for a class action.

The authority declined to comment on the lawsuit. “The authority has recognized its need for improvements and made strides to further increase oversight and review,” spokeswoman Susan Slupecki said. She cited as examples the creation of an internal audit function and a review of its financial procedures.

A sunset review, she said, would “complicate the process of selling bonds to finance projects, as the capital markets would not react favorably to the risk of third-party intervention to which they have no recourse.”

The authority insists that its billing system is accurate, but drivers told The Watchdog and Nelson that bills sometimes don’t arrive at the correct address.

The authority says it receives weekly address-change updates from the Department of Motor Vehicles and checks addresses through another database before sending out notices. Still, human error sometimes enters.

Katrina Daugherty of North Richland Hills said that for six months she kept receiving bills for a vehicle that wasn’t hers.

“I have placed several calls to NTTA,” she told me. “Responses to my calls have included the acknowledgment of the need for better proofreaders [of license plates in photos] and the need for better cameras. One customer service agent laughed at me.”

She said she was also placed on hold for 30 minutes after being disconnected twice.

“It was the biggest rigmarole,” she said. “Whoever is driving this car is not getting the bills. So if something comes up, and they get stopped and they’re told, ‘Hey, you owe NTTA,’ they’ll say: ‘What are you talking about? I didn’t get a bill.'”

The authority acknowledges that its “optical character recognition” software misread the vehicle’s license plate and mistakenly billed Daugherty.

“Cases like these aside,” Slupecki said, “the NTTA realizes that honest mistakes happen and confusion occurs. Ms. Daugherty brought the error to our attention, and we fixed it.”

That’s what’s happening in Austin. At least 160 frustrated drivers, state senators and representatives are bringing mistakes and overreaches to public attention. They are trying to fix that, too.

Note: As of early May 2010, Senate Bill 469 had passed in the Senate on a unanimous voice vote. It then went to the Texas House.

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber


North Texas Tollway Authority unhappy with our report about woman thrown in jail

The North Texas Tollway Authority has responded in full to the previous Dave Lieber column about the single mom who went to jail for 27 hours because of a problem stemming from unpaid tollway fines. She says she never received any notices. The NTTA says she did. But did she?

Read that full report here.

Fortunately, we can take advantage of the unlimited space offered on the Internet to post, in full, NTTA spokeswoman Susan Slupecki’s response and my response to her, also in full.

You decide.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

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From: Slupecki, Susan

Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 2:57 PM
Subject: Your article: “Unpaid Tollway Authority bills can land you in jail”

Mr. Lieber,

This letter is in response to your story that appeared in Sunday’s Star-Telegram, “Unpaid Tollway Authority bills can land you in jail” (dated Oct. 3, 2010).

Not only did you miss several salient points, but as a reporter you have an obligation to present all the facts, which clearly did not happen in this case.

So in the interest of accuracy and removing any negative light you have shed on the NTTA as a result of this article, I, again, offer the following facts.

Ms. Butler received three invoices from the NTTA in 2005 (two in May, one in November), as well as several additional notices in 2005 and 2006 requesting maintenance on her TollTag account.  None of the invoices or notices were returned to us (indicating a bad or incorrect address).  Had they been, the invoicing action could have been stopped and wouldn’t even have gotten to the DPS/citation stage.  However, a DPS citation was issued in September 2006 for the first invoice.

You state in your article that Ms. Butler contends she was “never notified of any unpaid bills or court appearances and that her address is correctly listed with the state and the NTTA, where she keeps a current TollTag account.” However, you failed to support this contention with any documentation that would validate her claim.  You then contradict this very statement further in your article when you say that Ms. Butler did, in fact, “hear” about a notice: “She remembered hearing about one notice that went to her now-deceased grandfather in Austin in 2006.” But again, you failed to state whether or not Ms. Butler contacted the NTTA prior to the citation being issued.  The fact is, she did not.  Despite our many attempts to reach her, at no time during the invoicing/notice/citation period in question did Ms. Butler contact us to address any maintenance, problems or concerns with her account.

Furthermore…you state in your article: “Officials said last year that they had improved their use of databases to get more-accurate information.” But you failed to demonstrate how we did this by excluding relevant information I provided to you last week outlining safeguards the NTTA has in place to ensure accuracy in our databases:

–          We receive weekly record updates from the Texas DMV.

–          We also run all our invoices through the National Change of Address (NCOA) database through the United States Postal Service to ensure accuracy of the address during invoicing.

–          The Department of Public Safety issues a citation only after a vehicle title record MATCHES the driver license record address, name, etc.

Based on that last bullet alone, you also failed to question how it could be possible that DPS – the very agency that presides over driver license information – did not have Ms. Butler’s current address at the time the citation was issued in 2006.  Seemingly, nor did the Collin County Justice of the Peace Court when a citation to appear in court was issued, OR the Collin County Sheriff’s Department when a warrant was later issued for her arrest for failure to appear in court.

The fact is, Texas law requires individuals to update the address on their driver license within 30 days of moving to a new residence.  If it is true that Ms. Butler moved during the period in question, then she had an obligation to notify the Texas Department of Transportation.

Furthermore, address information is to be corrected during re-registration of vehicles, which occurs annually.  Did Ms. Butler ever correct her registration information with TxDOT during the time in question?  Had she done so, the violation notices sent to Ms. Butler notifying her of unpaid tolls would have been directed to the new address.  Ms. Butler’s toll violations occurred in early 2005, and the criminal case against her was not filed until September 2006.  She had ample time to comply with state law regarding updating her driver license and vehicle registration information before her unpaid tolls resulted in the filing of a criminal citation, yet she apparently failed to do so.

Then there is the question of how Ms. Butler could have even accrued toll violations if her TollTag account was current during the time in question.  The fact is, TollTag accounts must be in good standing in order to work properly.  We must not only have current address and vehicle information, but also current payment information.  As I explained to you last week, having a TollTag account is similar to having a checking account—it is merely a method to pay for transactions and does not guarantee payment without a positive balance.  Was Ms. Butler’s address, vehicle and payment information current and her TollTag account in good standing in 2005 and 2006?  The fact is, the most common reason a TollTag customer receives a violation invoice is because the credit or debit card the customer has on file for their account has expired or is no longer valid and, therefore, the account can no longer keep a positive balance.

Clearly, there were several factors that made up Ms. Butler’s case.  But as I mentioned to you before, there is information I was not able to provide to you as disclosure of certain customer account information is prohibited by Section 366.179 of the Transportation Code.  Still, given all the information I have provided you, I wonder how you can use your article to question the accuracy of the NTTA, the Department of Public Safety and the Collin County court system – yet, never question Ms. Butler for her role in her situation.  I think the obvious speaks for itself in this case – Ms. Butler was not being completely straightforward with you, and the unfair story that resulted is just another example of many generated by the media that perpetuates the misconception that the NTTA is solely responsible for some situations customers like Ms. Butler find themselves in.

Because it is very important to the NTTA that members of the media portray these types of situations legitimately and accurately, we would be happy to go over Ms. Butler’s account with you provided she sign a waiver allowing us to discuss her account freely while both of you are present.  If you are open to this idea, please let me know and I will be happy to facilitate a dialogue among all the parties involved.

Thank you,

Susan Slupecki

Asst. Public Information Officer

North Texas Tollway Authority

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From: Dave Lieber
Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 3:18 PM
To: Slupecki, Susan
Subject: RE: Your article: “Unpaid Tollway Authority bills can land you in jail”


Thank you for your comments. Of course, I would be happy to meet.

With your permission, I’d like to print your letter in response on my blog so everyone can see your points when they come across it in the future.

I believe the story was quite clear that it was her word, not her documentation against the NTTA’s position. I made no bones about it.

In most, if not all cases, I quoted her as saying it, rather than presenting her statement as fact. You accurately used the word “contends.”

I would submit that you would contend to your position, too. You say you sent letters to her. They did not come back to you. You accept that as fact that they must have landed at their proper destination. I find that to be a stretch. Why wouldn’t you use return receipt requested mail to insure this? Several readers have indicated to me in the past few days that they would hope that any government or authority would use something more sophisticated to ensure that letters are going to their proper places, rather than “we sent it and it was never returned.” Especially when the end result could be jail time.

By your chairman’s own comment in the story, there have been numerous address errors in the past. Plus, even without his forthright comment, I, and many other members of the media have in the past reported about a stream of address problems. My point is that, considering NTTA’s track record, this incident is in the realm of the possible, not the impossible.

That’s why I was willing to let Butler have her say. Your paperwork that you showed me, and your letter her, contending that she did, in fact, receive the notice, is based on a supposition as weak or as strong as her own contention.

I would like to print your note in its entirety on my personal blog so others who find the story in the future can read it and make up their own minds. But I won’t do that without your permission.

Dave Lieber

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Read previous posts by Dave Lieber on this subject

Watchdog Nation says: Give ’em hell, Victor!

Here’s how to take back some of the authority from the North Texas Tollway Authority

Woman goes to jail for unpaid toll bill she says she never received

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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.