Maryland officials hope that publishing a list of drivers who have not paid their tolls will shame them into paying up.
Though current law does not allow the Maryland Transportation Authority to publish a list of toll scofflaws, agency Executive Secretary Harold Bartlett said Wednesday he hopes to change that so that he can publish a "hall of shame" of the worst offenders.
The practice has been a successful way to collect delinquent taxes, said Joseph Shapiro, spokesman for Comptroller Peter Franchot, whose office releases a list of the 50 people who owe the most in back taxes every six months. "Sometimes public scrutiny, embarrassment, whatever it is, works," Shapiro said.
The Office of the Comptroller says it has collected more than $26.5 million in delinquent taxes since posting the first list of offenders in 2000.
Publishing a list of toll violators is one of a few ways state officials hope to make a dent in the $6.7 million owed by nearly 650,000 vehicle owners.
The MTA also plans to propose legislation in the next General Assembly session that would enable the agency to issue $50 citations to people who don't pay the tolls they owe within 30 days. Since the Motor Vehicle Administration can't suspend a driver's license until after a citation has been issued, this would also enable the state to suspend violators' licenses.
Under current law, "video tolling" -- going through an E-ZPass lane without an E-ZPass on the windshield -- is considered a violation and should earn a driver a citation.
However, the MTA considers video tolling an acceptable form of paying the tolls as long as the driver pays up within 30 days, Bartlett said. Some roads, like the Intercounty Connector, don't have toll booths where people can choose to pay cash, so video tolling is the only option for someone without an E-ZPass.
As a result, the state hasn't issued citations -- or suspended licenses -- for toll violations for years.
The legislation also would enable the state to penalize violators from other states.
Between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2012, the state was owed about $1.5 billion in tolls, according to Bartlett. Of that, about $19.3 million -- $12.6 million of which has been paid -- was the result of drivers who drove through an E-ZPass lane without the E-ZPass.
Some of the biggest offenders are rental car companies that have refused to charge their customers for unpaid tolls.
In addition to suspending drivers' licenses, Franchot said he would also like to be able to suspend the rental companies' businesses licenses if they don't comply.
"April 30 in my office is known as restaurant and tavern day because that's the day when these businesses have either paid what's owed us in taxes or we pull their licenses," he said, calling the whole issue "a real PR problem."