AUSTIN, Texas - The MoPac expressway lanes have been open since last October and are currently recording about 800,000 monthly transactions. The majority of tolls are paid through electronic tags.
But in April, 309,000 transactions were billed by mail. Officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority say the payment rate currently is at 73% with 27% of their Pay by Mail bills going unpaid. It's a large amount but Jeff Dailey, Deputy Director of the CTRMA said it's not a surprise.
"We're doing what you'd expect, one of the trends we are looking at is the amount of pay by mail users is going up, there are less people using tags. And that’s more of a concern,” said Dailey.
The northbound lanes Tuesday afternoon were flowing just before the entrance to the toll way. From the beginning, some MoPac expressway drivers have tried to get around the congestion by taking a free ride on the tollway. For example; in the first few months of operation the CTRMA had almost $100,000 in unpaid tolls. That doesn't sit well for those who do pay the toll.
“Pay your bill or they will come after you," said Rick Manohar who pays using a TxTag.
Another driver, Don Wilson who pays by mail, is worried about how toll running could impact his commute.
"At the end of the day it’s probably going to cause a worse situation on MoPac that what its suppose to fix,” said Wilson.
Toll road managers agree with Wilson, saying the lost revenue can slow down funding for future road projects. The immediate impact, however, is already being felt by those who do pay.
"You've got a number of cars now using that MoPac Express facility that are actually pushing the toll rates up higher because there are more vehicles in there. so that impacts the regular uses who pays,” said Dailey.
The collection process can be as slow as the gridlock on an Austin roadway. Starting in November the mobility authority is going to try a new approach. Since January 150 criminal misdemeanor cases have been filed for nonpayment. In an effort to help people stay out of court, pre-paid accounts will be set up.
"And you can reload them with cash because a lot of people don’t want to tie their bank accounts to a tag or something like that,” said Dailey.
The agency is not getting rid of its hammer. Enforcement options will also ramp up. Names of violators are going to be published. Habitual offenders will face bans, that could lead to trespassing charges.
And vehicle registration holds will start.
It all about keeping the roads moving and the payments coming in.