The MTA and Port Authority are teaming up with regional law enforcement officials to crack down on the scourge of toll evasion.
In a joint announcement Friday, the agencies pledged to pull over and ticket drivers —and, in some cases, arrest repeat offenders or seize their vehicles.
“You don’t want to get caught, because you are going to get caught,” Danny DeCrescenzo, president of MTA Bridges and Tunnels, warned. “You might get caught at one of our facilities. You might get caught in the streets from NYPD. You might get caught at a Port Authority Facility from the Port Authority Police. The sheriff’s office might be behind you lighting up, or you might get pulled over by a state trooper.”
Last year, more than 5,500 people received a summons for license plate obstruction from the MTA and New York State Police. Fines range from $50 to $300 for purposefully covering a license plate to avoid paying tolls. This includes bending the plates or installing a plastic cover.
Transit advocates say the penalties are still not severe enough.
“With turnstile jumpers being tackled and handcuffed by the NYPD over $2.75, drivers committing fraud should get more than just a slap on the wrist,” Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director with the advocacy group Riders Alliance, said. “Plate fraud not only robs the MTA, it also evades speed and red light cameras, intensifying the clear and present danger on our roads. Driving is a privilege not a right. Fraudsters behind the wheel should lose their license and registration.”
The MTA recently announced the creation of a blue ribbon panel to address fare evasion across its system, including buses, subways, commuter rails, bridges and tunnels. The agency said it expects to lose $50 million this year to toll evasion, compared to $245 million on subways and $205 million on lost bus fares.
NYPD Deputy Inspector Conor Wynne noted there was often a connection between people who use fraudulent license plates and other crimes. Drivers will use these vehicles as getaway cars after robberies, or worse, he said.
“There’s a nexus to shootings, because when detectives go to do their investigation it’s a roadblock to them because that plate is either illegitimate, not assigned to that vehicle or unreadable,” Wynne said.
MTA Chairman Janno Lieber said toll evasion is also theft of money the agency needs to cover operating expenses. The MTA’s $18.5 billion budget relies on fares and tolls to cover half its operating costs.
“It’s safety, it’s honesty, it also means you’re stealing from other New Yorkers if you’re not paying the tolls that help us run our bus, subway, and commuter rail system,” Lieber said. “So don’t do it, have a great driving season, but please make sure you follow the law on license plates.”
Last year, an MTA worker was busted driving a vehicle with covered plates who also registered his vehicle multiple times to avoid paying over $100,000 in tolls and fees.