A Maryland resident says he was fined more than $11,000 after his family accidentally missed paying $30 in Virginia Express Lane tolls -- and now he and others have filed a class action lawsuit.
The trouble began for Kevin Stanfield with an honest mistake, he said. His wife lost her wallet, so the family canceled all their credit cards -- including the card linked to their E-ZPass. The family continued driving and using toll roads as usual, not realizing their transponder wasn't working and fees were piling up.
After they unwittingly missed eight tolls for $29.45, they received a bill for $900. When Stanfield refused to pay, a collections agency went after him for a total of $11,000.
"I was flabbergasted," Stanfield said. "I don't have that kind of money."
He and six other people have filed a class action lawsuit against Transurban, the operators of the Express Lanes.
"Thousands of Virginia, Maryland and DC residents have been subject to [Transurban's] excessive fines and fees," the lawsuit claims.
Other plaintiffs in the suit claim they also have faced steep fees when Express Lane sensors failed to read their E-ZPass correctly.
"I've heard so many stories of just hard working people that just made an honest mistake and then just being taken through the ringer," Stanfield said.
Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk said drivers are notified multiple times of fees they owe.
"You are going to get a notice. You are going to get a letter in the mail. So, you really want to look out for these notifications," McGurk said.
Stanfield said he and his wife ended up settling with Transurban for $2,200, but that he hopes to get the money back.
"I paid because I don't want to go to jail," he said. "The main thing is, I want them to stop doing this to people."
New purple lane stripes will be added to Interstate 95 and 495 Express Lanes in an effort to better mark the roadway. Those new markings could help drivers who faced major charges for missing Express Lane tolls.
Since the Express Lanes opened in 2012, the lane tolls have confused some drivers. To use the all-electronic Express Lanes, drivers must have an active E-ZPass. If drivers use the Express Lane without an E-ZPass or accidentally drive into the lane without knowing it, they may face toll fees and administrative charges.
Jackie Gilbert started using the Express Lanes in late 2012 even though she didn’t have an E-ZPass. She expected toll fees for the 16 trips she took in the Express Lanes. But she was not prepared for the $12.50 administrative fee that came with every toll that went unpaid.
Gilbert said she was charged $225 for missing tolls. She, like many area drivers, was unaware of the hefty administrative costs that come with skipping toll fees.
Gilbert was able to work with Express Lane officials to reduce the charge. But she is not the only local driver who received a surprise bill in the mail.
Toni Cooley was slammed with more than $10,000 in Express Lane fees, court costs and civic penalties after taking 11 unpaid trips in two weeks in 2012.
Cooley used Express Lanes during these trips and had an E-ZPass in her car. She did not properly set up auto-renewal on her pass, though. Because of this, she inadvertently used Express Lanes without paying tolls for two weeks.
Cooley received a bill for several hundred dollars. She paid only about $11 to cover the tolls, but refused to pay the fees. The several hundred dollars she was billed soon skyrocketed to more than $10,000 as she fought the charge.
Other drivers face fees for using the lanes accidentally.
Naima Fellers’ teenage daughter accidentally got on a 495 Express Lane in 2013. She exited the lane as soon as she realized where she was. She only drove the Express Lane for about one minute.
Fellers got a $13.10 bill in the mail three weeks later. Her daughter missed only one toll, a charge that would have been 60 cents. But the administrative fee hiked the bill up dramatically.
If drivers still use the Express Lane accidentally or have an issue with E-ZPass, there is a way to avoid major fees: contact Transurban. If a driver reports his or her missed toll within five days, he or she will face a much smaller charge, usually only about one dollar.