Category: NewsLink to article here.
North Texas Tollway Authority now wants to run its own court
Posted Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
By Dave Lieber
The North Texas Tollway Authority wants to create an internal toll road court that would force "habitual violators" into a legal hearing with a presiding officer, opening and closing statements, witnesses, testimony and lawyers -- but no jury.
A driver who loses his case and refuses to pay up would be banned from an NTTA-operated toll road forever.
The NTTA is circulating a draft of its proposed bill for the 2013 Legislature. The Watchdog asked NTTA for a copy, but the authority declined. Instead, The Watchdog obtained a draft from another source.
I can exclusively report details of what may be seen by some as NTTA's leap above and beyond basic constitutional rights. Others, wanting violators to pay up, will see the proposed system as a way to offer violators a chance to tell their side of the story.
When I think of an NTTA-operated court, legendary Judge Roy Bean's courtroom in Langtry comes to mind: "Do you have anything to say before we find you guilty?"
The NTTA doesn't call it a toll court. The authority calls it an "administrative hearing" where decisions are reached. But it sounds like a court to me.
A violator is defined as someone with 100 or more unpaid tolls who has received a mailed third notice of nonpayment. If a hearing officer decides that a registered owner of a vehicle must pay back tolls, fines and other charges, the owner would face a ban. If that same vehicle owner were later found on an NTTA road, he would be charged with criminal trespass.
As part of its enforcement designs, the NTTA wants state lawmakers to give counties power to block annual vehicle registration for any vehicle owner "subject to an administrative decision."
The bill gives NTTA even more power than it already has. For instance, a guilty toll debtor must either pay the debt, fines and penalties or else satisfy "the authority in its sole discretion." That's pretty open-ended.
Hearing officers would be hired by the NTTA, but their pay won't be based on which way they rule. Appeals can be filed in district court. These powers would be in addition to NTTA's continued use of existing justice of the peace courts to enforce criminal penalties against violators.
No lawmaker has introduced NTTA's bill yet. The authority says it plans a public campaign to tout it in the coming months.
The Watchdog asks: Is the NTTA competent enough to create its own judiciary?
I'd suggest three reasons out of thousands that show NTTA hasn't displayed the responsibility and the accuracy needed to run a fair and impartial legal system. The three are Mark McCauley, Brian Gaddy and Stanley Pisano. These are three guys who had run-ins with NTTA that show that the authority has problems getting little things right, let alone the big stuff.
Take McCauley's problem. He sells his car to somebody and two days later he reports this to the Texas DMV. The state sends him a confirmation e-mail: "This vehicle record will be updated." Sounds like a done deal, right?
A year later he gets a toll bill for a date when he no longer owns the car. He explains the problem to NTTA and offers his confirmation e-mail as proof.
NTTA says its system can only locate the current title owner, but the car had been sold again. McCauley is told to pay for a certified title check. He protests, "I have the documentation from the state showing I did exactly what I was supposed to do."
After The Watchdog inquires, the NTTA contacts TxDOT and gets proof of the vehicle transfer. This is "information the DMV usually does not provide to the NTTA," the NTTA spokeswoman says. Perhaps it should.
Or take the case of Gaddy: He has a TollTag account but still gets a bill in the mail for tolls that are 19 months old. He doesn't understand why this wasn't charged to his account.
The NTTA acknowledges that it sent Gaddy ancient toll bills and explains he drove a car on a toll road before he added its license plate to his account. OK, but 19 months?
And there's Pisano of San Antonio who receives a bill for $1.35 and calls NTTA to protest. He was never in Dallas that day. "All I get is a busy signal," he says. Frustrated, he writes to the state attorney general, a state senator and me.
I bring this to NTTA's attention. The spokeswoman tells me that "the images were corrected and the transactions were assigned to the correct person."
When I ask about Pisano, I am told it may take time to get me an answer. "Our customer service center is at capacity, so I can't guarantee when I'll get info back on these," the spokeswoman says.
What's the problem? I get another answer: "higher call volume than normal" ... "extended call center hours" ... "hiring temporary customer service specialists to help with the increased volume."
It's the little things. Like answering the telephone and reading license plates correctly. If you can't do that, how can you run your own little legal fiefdom like Judge Roy Bean?
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.
- Putting lipstick on the P3 pig - 'availability payments'
- Loop 1604 could be handed to private toll operator for 50 years
- TX lawmakers vote to sell-off 20 roads to private entities
- Highway Trust Fund needs to be cut 92%?
- VA Residents protest toll lanes on I-395
- Reasons to be wary of public private partnerships
- Legislators pass law to use property tax to build TOLL roads
- Trans Texas Corridor update: Hwy 59 gets I-69 designation
Like Us on Facebook!
Latest Press Releases
- Texas for Sale: Texas roads may be handed to private, foreign toll operators
- Texans ask for leadership to enact NEW vision for road policy
- Grassroots applaud Perry's call to end diversions, reject Rainy Day raid
- Texans call for boycott of Cintra's SH 130 tollway
- Judge rules foreign company can take Texas land using eminent domain
- Victory for open government, but not complete transparency
- Farmer challenges use of eminent domain for Keystone pipeline
- Anti-toll groups celebrate Campbell, Cruz victories