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.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.

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

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

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

# # #

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

# # #

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

# # #

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

# # #

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.

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

A 34-year-old single mother was tossed in jail for 27 hours last month for failing to appear in court for an unpaid North Texas Tollway Authority bill.

Carole Denise Butler of McKinney estimates the 5-year-old bill at $11.

She told The Watchdog that she was never notified of any unpaid bills or court appearances, though, she says, her address is correctly listed with the state and the NTTA, where she keeps a current TollTag account.

She remembered hearing about one notice that went to her now-deceased grandfather in Austin in 2006. But she never saw it, and she bought a car from him in 2003 and properly changed her address, she says.

It’s not an isolated incident. “There’ve been a few” motorists tossed into his county’s jail for charges that began as unpaid toll fines, a spokesman for the Collin County Sheriff’s Department tells The Watchdog.

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

The Watchdog has written about how tolls costing a few dollars can escalate into $500 fines with penalties and fees. Some motorists say they never received bills or warning letters. The threat of arrest was always imminent, but this is the first case I could find of an arrest taking place.

The NTTA has acknowledged that it has had problems with obtaining accurate addresses. Officials said last year that they had improved their use of databases to get more-accurate information.

The Watchdog contacted Victor Vandergriff, new chairman of the authority board and the first from Tarrant County, to ask about Butler. “This is news and a little bit of a surprise … and a little disturbing,” he said.

“I would be concerned about anybody who has spent 27 hours in detention. I recognize that oftentimes when the tolls aren’t paid that there may be misinformation. It may be a bad address.”

Vandergriff, who has promised to reform the toll-collection system, said: “I want to address that. I certainly didn’t expect us to be doing that.”

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

Victor Vandergriff promises to fix the system

NTTA spokeswoman Susan Slupecki says records show that Butler was sent three notices in 2005 and that the mail was never returned to sender. Another notice was sent to a different address supplied by the Transportation Department, and it wasn’t returned either.

The Department of Public Safety issued a citation in 2006, and a court notice was issued after that. Butler says she never knew.

The NTTA says it does not track how many motorists are jailed for failing to appear in court, which is the technical cause for an arrest warrant. “We do not have access to county databases,” Slupecki says.

The DPS sent justice of the peace courts 5,295 NTTA citations last year and has sent 6,649 this year.

For the past year, I’ve recommended that NTTA complaints go to Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who has vowed to tame the authority during the 2011 legislative session.

“Jailing someone for unpaid tolls — especially if the NTTA doesn’t know whether they received the invoices — is too harsh,” Nelson said last week of Butler’s case. “I am looking into changes that may be needed in how toll road agencies assess penalties.”

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

Sen. Jane Nelson: Write to her if you have a problem with the NTTA

Butler was arrested early Sept. 4. She had left an Allen bar with a female co-worker. The co-worker collapsed in the parking lot. Police arrived and asked Butler to drive the woman home. Butler agreed.

But an Allen police officer checking the validity of Butler’s driver’s license before she went found an outstanding misdemeanor warrant. She arrested Butler and arrested the co-worker on suspicion of public intoxication.

Butler spent 12 hours at the Allen Jail. She said she could not make phone calls because the phones allow only collect calls, and her emergency contacts use only cellphones that don’t accept those calls. She said she never learned why she was arrested.

Then Butler, an insurance processor, was transferred to the Collin County Detention Center in McKinney, where she spent 15 hours.

“They lock you up and treat you like an animal,” she said. “If they would have sent me a notice saying I had a citation, I would have paid it,” said Butler, daughter of a retired state trooper.

The DPS provides the NTTA with information on citations and warrants. In this case, the Collin County Sheriff’s Department held the warrant. A spokesman for Allen police says officers usually don’t know what the violation is when they arrest someone on a misdemeanor warrant.

Butler eventually settled with the NTTA. Her total bill started at $469 with penalties and fees. Collin County Justice of the Peace Mike Yarbrough cut that down to $242 with credit for time served in jail. She also paid the authority $112 in fees, including the original $11 toll bill for a car she sold three years ago.

When I contacted the NTTA about Butler, I received a written report with information about “Ms. Baker.”

Since the problem here is about accurate addresses, names seem a problem, too. I’m just sayin’.

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

# # #

Read the NTTA’s response to the above report here.

Read the previous Watchdog Nation report called “Here’s how to take back some of the authority from the North Texas Tollway Authority.”

Read the previous Watchdog Nation reported called “Watchdog Nation says: Give ’em hell, Victor.”

# # #

Send your stories and comments about the North Texas Tollway Authority to or by mail to Sen. Jane Nelson, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711.

NTTA urges customers to update address, vehicle and payment information with them. 972-818-NTTA (6882) or visit

Keep the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles informed of address changes, too. To learn about that, visit

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

# # #

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.

Watchdog Nation says: Give ’em hell, Victor!

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

Often, when government staff presents a proposal to elected or appointed boards of directors, approval is a slam dunk.

Perhaps that’s what the fellows at the North Texas Tollway Authority hoped when they stood before directors the other day and presented two proposals.tollways

The first was a staff decision to avoid addressing in a major way the  erosion of confidence many North Texans have about the NTTA’s inequitable and confusing toll collection policies.

Put simply: A $1 toll can escalate to $500 in fines, fees and other ridiculous costs.

The second proposal involved hiring a politically-connected law firm, Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, to be the authority’s collection muscle.

Things didn’t work out as planned.

Here’s the way I told the story in the Dec. 11, 2009 Dave Lieber column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

# # #

At least there’s one representative on the North Texas Tollway Authority fighting for fairness in fees, fines and penalties.

Victor Vandergriff, an Arlington businessman who serves as the board’s vice chairman, gave top authority staffers a tongue-lashing this week.

Victor Vandergriff

Victor Vandergriff

Faced with public anger about a collection process that can turn a $1 toll fee into $500 in fines, penalties and other costs, the authority had postponed any public discussion of what to do about it until Monday’s finance committee meeting in Plano.

There, Vandergriff let it rip:

“I have significant concerns about the level of detail provided here today,” he said after hearing two staff reports on the collections process. “We’ve been waiting for this for months, and this is what we get?

“I’m not a happy camper. To be honest with you, your presentations were lacking in detail here.”

He complained that the authority’s staffers gave him copies of their report on fees and collections only a few days before the meeting. “I want to request getting information in a more timely manner,” he said.

He complained that even before that, staffers were slow to answer the “hue and cry” of the public about perceived inequities in collections procedures. “It’s taken us way too long to get before this body,” he said. “We need to avoid that in the future and do things more promptly.”

He complained that the authority’s budget may be too strongly based on collecting penalty fees.

“That budget, I believe, contains, as a serious component of it, [income from] administrative fines, fees and penalties. That puts pressure on this agency to basically balance this on the back” of the collection process. “That concerns me a great deal.”

Rather, he said, the budget should be based on “a reasonable and fair collection cost.”

The tollway authority staff conducted a survey of 21 tolling agencies and found that 15 assess roughly the same late fees and penalties, three were higher and three were lower.

Staffers concluded that the North Texas authority’s fee structure is fair.

Their proposal to the board? “Staff recommends formalizing the new invoice process.” Wow. That should make everyone happy.

Led by Vandergriff, the board decided not to go along with that. The problems are far more complex.

“I’d like to understand in writing precise collections costs,” he said testily.

Minutes later, staffers tried to get the board’s blessing on a second proposal — to hire as its outside collection agency the Austin-based law firm of Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson L.L.P.

Linebarger also does delinquent-tax collection for Arlington, Fort Worth and Tarrant County. It has offices in Texas and 12 other states.

The Star-Telegram has reported that Linebarger collects about $1 billion in delinquent taxes each year for more than 2,000 government entities, according to the firm.

But the firm has been accused of using unnecessary muscle to secure contracts.

In 2004, a former partner in the firm pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in a scandal that also involved a former San Antonio councilman. Locally, a $2,000 Linebarger campaign contribution to then-Mayor Barton Scott prompted the Mansfield City Council to deem the donation inappropriate and fire the firm.

Vandergriff complained that it made no sense to hire a collections firm when the authority hasn’t figured out how to run its collection process.

“Pretty serious stuff,” he said of the proposed Linebarger hiring. Yet the only the information Vandergriff said he was given was “nine pages of PowerPoint, not a lot of data, and you’re asking us to approve this today? Is that what I’m understanding?”

“I don’t understand the logic to this,” he added.tollway 1

Pam Hicks of Arlington has complained to The Watchdog that a tollway authority customer service representative told her that if she didn’t pay $82, “I would be subject to arrest.”

She said this about Vandergriff: “I’m very glad that someone is standing up for what’s right. I don’t know how far he can hold them accountable, but at least he’s not letting them off the hook and saying they can continue to do business as they are.”

* * *

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. His book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, won two national book awards in 2009 for social change.

Watchdog Nation alert: State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is collecting your stories, ideas and comments to help battle the authority’s policies. Her e-mail is Her U.S. mail address is Senator Jane Nelson, P.O. Box 12086, Austin, TX 78711.

A closer look Number of invoices mailed for payment by the North Texas Tollway Authority:

2006: 500,000

2007: 1 million

2008: 2 million

2009: 3 million

Source: NTTA

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

As the North Texas Tollway Authority creeps more and more into our lives, drivers continue to have fits over steep fees levied when toll bills aren’t paid on time.

Apparently, the NTTA takes the word authority in its title quite seriously. It continues to charge customers who missed a few dollars in toll payments many hundreds of dollars in fines and fees. Some motorists say they never received the original bills.ntta

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, says she has seen enough of what she calls “exorbitant” penalties. She says the $11 million in penalties collected from drivers since last year is the authority’s way of making up for lost revenue.

Watchdog Nation alert: Senator Nelson needs ammunition to take on the authority. Send ideas, stories and comments to or Senator Jane Nelson, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711.

Watchdog Nation alert: Senator Nelson needs ammunition to take on the authority. Send ideas, stories and comments to or Senator Jane Nelson, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711.

“It’s gotten out of hand,” Nelson says. “What really bothers me is this is not supposed to be a revenue source for the NTTA. A fine should be a reminder that you need to pay for the tolls. But $11 million? That’s a lot of fines.”

The authority says it also spent $35 million in staff salaries and postage to administer its billing system.

Nelson plans to hit the problem head-on in the Legislature: “The way we set it up, I’m not sure we didn’t give them too much authority. We need to go back and consider more oversight.”

More authority over the authority. That comes as welcome news to drivers who say they’ve been burned.

As Dave Lieber first reported in the Oct. 11 column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for those who don’t travel east of Tarrant County very often, drivers who use toll roads in Dallas, Denton and Collin counties are encouraged to buy TollTags to hang on their windshield. Tags are read electronically, and the driver’s account is debited.

For those without a tag, the authority photographs their license plate and then mails a bill at a higher rate to the car’s registered owner. The authority is phasing out toll booths where cash is accepted and building roads with few booths.

If a toll-road scofflaw goes too long without paying, the case is referred to a justice of the peace (5,295 cases this year). In the end, an unpaid 45-cent toll can cost hundreds of dollars with added court costs.

Geoff Hartford of Denton says a $3.17 toll charge cost him $139 in payments to a collection agency. He was charged with five late payment violations at $25 each.

“They sent the invoice to my old address in Argyle,” he says.

The NTTA says that the invoices are sent to the listed address in government records and that the vehicle’s owner is responsible for updating the registration.

Charles Evans says he received a bill for $518 for about $18 in tolls. Two employees told him that if he didn’t pay the bill, he could be arrested, he said. Then the NTTA agreed to settle for $187. But when he went to the NTTA’s Web site to buy a TollTag, he found that if he bought a tag he could pay the $18 and clear his account.

“Their whole billing, fee and collection processes almost seem illegal to me,” he says.

The authority changed its policy on negotiated settlements, but its computer system still asks customers to sign up for the old violation enforcement agreement. The NTTA says it is “currently working to correct” the problem.

Robert J. Tilka of Keller has complained to Nelson. He says the authority offered to cut his bill from $518 to $150.

“It’s like organized crime,” Tilka says “It is a total money grab on the citizens of Texas, in my mind. Is there not a way to get people fired from the board? What is the best way to dispute this government agency?”

The NTTA declined to comment on Tilka’s remarks except to say public comment is always welcome.

The NTTA says its board “accepts comments from the public at all posted meetings.” (Visit to learn more.)

In September, tolls on the Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike were raised 32 percent. The authority is trying to meet financial commitments, unify its system and respond to economic conditions, spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt says.

Last year, the authority oversaw the sale of $5 billion in bonds for refinancing debt and funding construction. This year the authority issued $1.2 billion in bonds.

The authority says it intends to revisit its fees and penalty policies at a meeting in November.

Former Fort Worth Mayor Ken Barr, who was appointed to the NTTA board last year, said he’s aware that the system has problems and is confident that the board will address them in the next few weeks.

“I think we need to take a very hard look at the authority’s procedures,” he said, adding that it’s important to collect all tolls.

“It is very frustrating to try to collect from everyone and have a lot of people who would appear to purposely avoid paying,” he said. “We’ve got an obligation to regular users to collect from everybody. But that’s extremely difficult to do.”

NTTA Executive Director Allen Clemson says on the authority’s Web site: “The NTTA realizes that mistakes happen, confusion occurs or invoices are overlooked. That’s why we will waive 67 percent of administrative fees incurred if any violator takes care of the balance before the outstanding invoice is transferred to the collection agency.

“The purpose of administrative fees is to help pay for the cost of collection. They are not considered an additional revenue stream.”

But Nelson disagrees. She says that when she has questioned the NTTA, “they’ve been very defensive.”

UPDATES: After this appeared, the authority has asked for a meeting with Sen. Nelson… Thanks also to Reese Dunklin, intrepid investigator for competition-across-town Dallas Morning News for his help in this movement with this much-appreciated post at at DMN Investigates Blog.

Watchdog Nation alert: Senator Nelson needs ammunition to take on the authority. Send ideas, stories and comments to or Senator Jane Nelson, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711.

About the NTTA The North Texas Tollway Authority is authorized to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate turnpike projects in North Texas.

The governing board’s members are Chairman Paul N. Wageman, Vice Chairman Victor Vandergriff and directors Kenneth Barr, Gary Base, Bob Day, David Denison, Michael Nowels, Bob Shepard and Alan E. Sims.

NTTA customer service: 972-818-NTTA (6882);

Source: NTTA

This is the FLOW CHART from NTTA showing the path of a fine.

Send your comments to State Sen. Jane Nelson at

Send your comments to State Sen. Jane Nelson at