Friday, December 16, 2005

Dulles Toll Road Tolls, As If

According to this Washington Post article, if you drive through a Dulles Toll Road toll without paying, you won't get ticketed or even receive a warning. The bells and sirens that go off when a violation occurs is all the penalty you'll get. Apparently they're just for show:

When drivers blow through the toll lanes on the Dulles Toll Road without paying, a red security light immediately flashes and starts whirling in circles. A loud bell rings.

And that's it. Forever.

Despite the gaudy appearance of enforcement, it's all for show, state officials acknowledged. That little device that looks like it houses a camera? There's nothing in there. There is no equipment to catch toll cheaters. No pictures are taken. No ticket is issued. No note is sent home to Mom.

Watchout, the fake camera might take your picture.

First, why does this situation even exist? Did the VA DOT expect people to be honest and say, "I'm sorry, I didn't pay the toll, please accept my paid toll. Please do me the honor of letting me know what assorted fines I owe the state." Come on, none of us are THAT honest.

Second, aren't there a few hundred other freeways in the country that have working toll violator capturing services? I know from experience that DC and Bethesda have some working traffic cameras that never miss a violating car. I've read that NJ's E-Z Pass has worked too well in catching violators, as the state was counting on the penalties to pay for the system's installation, only to have less people try to cheat because of how well violators were captured. Couldn't the VA DOT have spoken to other transportation departments and used one of their systems?

Third, I think it's great that the Washington Post has taken upon itself the role of letting the public know they don't have to pay tolls and may speed through them without any reparations. Way to use just a little discretion. What's next, an article letting us know we can take a packet of crackers from Giant's soup display without paying? Granted this article will embarrass the VA DOT and maybe fast-track the work, but I doubt it. Perhaps it's all part of a sinister plan to make more people think they can violate the tolls only to either now have working electronic enforcement and/or loads more cops waiting at the tolls. However, I wouldn't give the DOT that much credit to do something as sneaky as this.

Fourth, you may ask:

So why all the bells and lights when violators drive by? "To alert a nearby toll collector if they can catch the license plate to take down information or if law enforcement is nearby and there is somebody they need to pursue," said Deborah Brown, director of innovative (Ironic, no?) finance and revenue operations at VDOT.

Riiiiight, because I'm sure a toll collector has nothing better to do than stop collecting money and furiously write down someone's license plate. Plus, by the time anyone would turn to see the violating car, it'd be well on its way and out of plate-reading distance. I love red tape, especially now that I know I won't have to pay tolls.

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