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Seattle woman describes $5K tolling ‘nightmare’

Craig Stone, assistant secretary for the Toll Division with the Washington State Department of Transportation, stands next to a timeline he built that shows the account history for Good to Go! customer Rebecca Porter. Porter, 25, of Seattle, told KIRO Radio that the state never informed her that she had $5,556.07 in unpaid tolls and fees. (Photo: KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)

Rebecca Porter has a job on the Eastside, so when the state started tolling the SR 520 bridge she got a Good to Go! pass.

Porter, 25, commutes from her home in Seattle’s University District to work at least twice a day, five days a week. Her pass is set up to automatically deduct the cost of her toll from her Good to Go! account.

Porter said she had no reason to believe that the tolls weren’t being paid and was shocked to learn in February that she owed the state for 127 crossings that never came out of her account. The cost of the actual tolls added up to $516.07, but the bill ballooned to $5,556.07 after penalties and fees.

She told KIRO Radio that she never received a bill or notice in the mail that she had unpaid tolls.

“I am more than willing to pay the actual amount of tolls that I have, but I feel like it is ridiculous to make someone pay 10 times that amount in fees for something they never received information for,” she said.

Porter went before a judge at the Toll Enforcement Office on June 3 to argue her case. While the judge dismissed 10 of the tolls, she ordered Porter to pay $5,146.85 for the remainder of the violations within 10 days. Porter said she does not have enough money to pay the bill by the deadline – which is Thursday.

“Not unless I sell everything I own,” she said.

KIRO Radio brought Porter’s case to the Washington State Department of Transportation and Craig Stone, assistant secretary for the Toll Division. Stone and his team spent two days investigating each aspect of the case to determine what went wrong.

He said that over a period of roughly a year, Porter’s Good to Go! account carried an average balance of $.52 to $1.60. A trip across the bridge during a peak commute time for those with a pass is $3.59.

He said she crossed the bridge 127 times without sufficient funds in her account and that WSDOT sent her 35 emails during that period to notify her that her account was low, and seven emails to notify her that her account was in the red.

While some Good to Go! users choose to have their account automatically replenish when funds reach a certain level, others choose to transfer money manually.

Stone said each time Porter crossed the bridge without sufficient funds in her account, WSDOT sent her a paper bill in the mail.

“She’s been living a little bit on the edge here with her account and not keeping it quite up to par,” said Stone, who received permission from Porter to talk about her account. “So what happened with that is that we’ve had to send out these toll bills to her.”

However, Porter never received the bills in the mail.

“We had 10 toll bills that were being delivered to an address in Seattle that was not her residence,” Stone said.

Stone said it is unclear who is to blame for the mistake.

Porter said she asked a Good to Go! customer service representative why the bills never made it to her home.

“The woman who I spoke with on the phone told me to ‘take it up with my mailman,'” she said.

Porter said she believes the system is broken.

“It’s been incredibly stressful,” she said. “The entire thing is stacked against people. I hope they fix it soon because I don’t think other people should have to deal with it.”

Stone told KIRO Radio that WSDOT will present the information they have uncovered about Porter’s case to the tolling judge to see if she will reconsider her ruling. If not, Stone said they will work with Porter to set up a payment plan.

From May 2012 through April 2013, nearly 9,500 people have requested a hearing to dispute a toll bill, according to numbers provided by WSDOT. Of those, 5,300 people were found liable. The number of individual tolls that have been disputed, including trips across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, is approximately 46,000 of 43,000,000 crossings.

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