ALBANY, N.Y. — After its nearly yearlong journey through the state Assembly and Senate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the Toll Payer Protection Act late Friday.
Supporters of the bill considered it a way to ensure drivers weren't paying more than their fair share on the roads and wouldn't end up with surprise registration suspensions.
The governor didn't see it that way.
"This bill makes a number of substantial and systematically problematic changes to the capability of toll authorities to both collect tolls and enforce toll violations in the state of New York," Cuomo wrote in his veto message, which concluded with his intention to "propose additional enhancements to benefit all system users in next year's executive budget."
Had it passed, the Toll Payer Protection Act would have:
- Given people who have been charged a cashless-toll fee the option to be notified by text or email within 72 hours or by mail within 14 days; the ability to dispute fees and related penalties (with signs "prominently" posted on the Thruway Authority's website); the option to set up a payment plan; and the ability to review records that directly prompted the fee and any corresponding late fees.
- Not allowed for late fees to be assessed if the toll bill wasn't sent to the registration holder postmarked more than 31 days after the toll fee was incurred.
- Allow E-ZPass holders to get the E-ZPass rate even when their E-ZPass account has insufficient funds.
- Itemize toll-fee bills by date, time, location, license-plate number and vehicle registration number.
- Require all rest stops along the state Thruway to make E-ZPass available for purchase.
The Assembly version of the bill, which the governor vetoed, would also have prohibited the state from suspending drivers' registrations for unpaid tolls. State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, one of the bill's sponsors, likened suspending car registrations for unpaid tolls to "throwing someone in jail for jumping a turnstile."
Still, that difference between the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill proved to be a bridge too far — be it a Tappan Zee or a Mario M. Cuomo — for the governor.
In his veto, Cuomo said the bill would "lower to the point of insignificance any penalty that could be charged for nonpayment of a toll bill and prohibits registration suspension for nonpayment, hamstringing the state's enforcement ability."
The bill would have "facilitated greater toll evasion," Cuomo wrote.
State Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, was the bill's other sponsor. He and Abinanti said they were disappointed with the governor's decision, but looked forward to talking more with him about cashless tolling.
"Now drivers are left vulnerable to an unfair cashless-toll system," the two legislators said in a joint statement. "As a result, drivers will still not get timely bills, they will face exorbitant penalties, and they could be victimized by vehicle registration suspensions."
The Toll Payer's Protection Act arose after the installation of cashless-toll plazas at key locations along state roads and at crossings. Once the cashless apparatus were in place, reports started to circulate of drivers being billed more than they should have been, or else accumulating hefty fines without being notified, which eventually caused problems when drivers tried to renew their cars' registrations.
In response to many of these reports, The Journal News/lohud spent three months investigating the problems with cashless tolling and produced reporting that led to the following changes in the system:
- An amnesty program forgiving thousands of dollars from individual bills
- A new web page for the amnesty program instead of using the faulty Tolls By Mail site
- More distinct envelopes so drivers know they've received a bill
- New toll signs on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
- More responsiveness from Thruway officials, two of whom attended a Journal News/lohud forum on cashless tolling and personally helped drivers with their individual cases.
The bill aimed at correcting more of cashless tolling's ills began its journey through the state Legislature in February. It passed in the Assembly in June and was sent to the Senate, which passed it at the end of that month.
The bill was delivered to Cuomo's desk earlier this month. He vetoed it late Friday night.
Journal News Engagement Editor Nancy Cutler contributed to this report.