Moratorium Sought for Toll Road Fines

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Weeks after Orange County’s toll roads went completely cashless, confusion and frustration is mounting.

With the toll booths now gone, drivers have to set up an online account before using the South County toll road system.

As a result, violations have doubled since cash stopped being accepted on May 14, according to the Orange County Register, to more than 15,000 per day.

The situation merits waiving fines though Labor Day, said Orange County Transportation Authority board member Todd Spitzer, who is also a county supervisor and Transportation Corridor Agencies board member.

“It would be so patently unfair to charge people for a fine on a system that is transitioning, when honestly it is massively confusing when you’re traveling at, you know, 65 [miles per hour],” Spitzer said at Monday’s OCTA board meeting.

“Hopefully TCA can sort that mess out,” he added.

The request comes just weeks after the toll road agencies stopped accepting cash at their toll booths in an effort to cut costs, mainly by cutting about 100 attendants.

If TCA ends up waiving ticket fees, it’s unclear how long the cashless switch will take to pencil out.

The agency expects to save $5.2 million this coming fiscal year from its conversion to all-electronic toll collections.

A 100-day moratorium, as Spitzer requested, could lead to more than $6 million in lost fine revenue, based on annual budget figures. Additionally, it’s unclear how confusion over the new system will affect the agency’s $118 million in expected toll income this next fiscal year.

For Spitzer, confusion surrounding the new system hit home around Father’s Day, when his father drove in from the desert to visit.

Spitzer’s father normally pays cash, he said, and would now have to go online to set a payment account for the toll road.

“There’s no more cash,” said Spitzer. “He had no idea.”

Problems were also apparent this weekend, Spitzer said, when he saw that drivers had pulled over to the side of the road in front of the toll booths.

“I see them on their cell phone, they’re parked. They do not know what to do,” said Spitzer.

So on Monday morning, Spitzer said, he called the toll road agency’s acting CEO, Mike Kraman, to say “you cannot fine people during this transition period. We need a moratorium.”

The toll road agencies operate the SR-73 toll road from Newport Beach to San Juan Capistrano, the SR-241 from Anaheim Hills past Rancho Santa Margarita, and the the 133 and 261 freeways.

(Click here for a map of Orange County’s toll roads)

In addition to people not being aware that cash is no longer accepted, Spitzer said some of the signs regarding tolls are extremely difficult to read while driving.

“I use the system and I’m completely perplexed,” he said.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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