Photo/Story Gallery 2006

Troopers on the Turnpike Catch Toll Violators

Sergeant Krause calls out a toll violator to waiting troopers.Recently, the Florida Highway Patrol joined with the Florida Turnpike Enterprise in a new Toll Abuse No Excuse enforcement campaign that was rolled out in South Florida and is making its way north in the coming weeks. If a driver is stopped for not paying a toll or running the Sunpass lane, the fine is on average $100 depending on the county where the citation was issued.

Pictured left: Sergeant Norman Krause calls out a toll violator to waiting troopers.

This campaign was developed in response to a recent increase in toll violations that have resulted in an increase in lost revenue of $11 million in 2004 to $17 million in 2005. So far in 2006, violations have resulted in lost revenues of over $20 million. The campaign includes stepped up enforcement waves by state troopers and officers from the Department of Transportation’s office of Motor Carrier Compliance. Radio ads and electronic message boards set up along the highway will also be used to remind motorists to pay their tolls. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that they proceed through the correct toll lane and all Sunpasses are properly placed in the vehicle. It is not recommended that drivers attempt to hold the Sunpass up while driving through the lane.

There are plans in the works that may include a change in the way unpaid tolls are collected and an increase in fines.

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Additional Photos -1 waiting troopers. Additional Photos -2 waiting troopers. Additional Photos -3 waiting troopers. Additional Photos -4 waiting troopers. Additional Photos -5 waiting troopers. Additional Photos -6 waiting troopers. Additional Photos -7 waiting troopers. Campaign Billboard


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Troopers crack down on turnpike-toll cheats

Published on Monday, October 30, 2006
in the Orlando Sentinel

Scores of motorists wind up with hefty fines for trying to avoid a 75-cent toll.

Some people will do anything to avoid a 75-cent toll on Florida’s Turnpike.

They hide from the cameras designed to catch them, obscure their tags with plastic sleeves, spray their plates with a photo blocker, even use their hands to veil the numbers.

Fed up with toll cheats, troopers swarmed turnpike plazas across the state last week in the start of a major blitz to reduce the number of toll evaders. Scores of motorists were snared in the first few hours of the sting, each netting an $87.50 fine in Broward County and $88.50 in Palm Beach County.

“It’s either pay now or pay later,” said Lt. Roger Reyes of the Florida Highway Patrol. “Would you rather pay 75 cents now or $87.50 later?”

Toll evaders drove off with $20 million in lost revenue last year, barreling through SunPass lanes even though they don’t have the windshield-mounted device that automatically deducts tolls.

That infuriates drivers such as Carlos Marrero of Lake Worth, who bought SunPass for the convenience of not stopping at a tollbooth to pay cash.

“If they don’t want to pay, then they shouldn’t be using the turnpike,” Marrero said.

About 4 percent of all turnpike drivers sneak through toll plazas without paying, which is about the national average of other toll roads, according to Florida’s Turnpike officials. Only 1 percent are the most habitual offenders, evading the system dozens of times.

Although cameras are poised at every plaza to catch scofflaws by shooting photos of their license plates, that still hasn’t stopped some drivers from skipping the tolls. Officials don’t know exactly how many motorists don’t pay, because some do it repeatedly and others periodically.

In the first six months of this year, the turnpike’s top five offenders racked up 1,241 violations and owe $1,303.

The turnpike had 22 million unpaid toll transactions last year amounting to $20 million in lost revenue, toll operations director Evelio Suarez said. That’s up $9 million from two years before.

Officials attribute the increase to the rapid expansion of SunPass lanes.

In 2003, there were 143 SunPass lanes statewide. Today, there are 208.

One driver Thursday morning stopped in the Cypress Creek plaza’s SunPass-only lanes, displaying confusion after realizing he had gotten into the wrong lane and wanted to pay with cash.

“Go! Go on!” Reyes shouted and waved at the driver.

Troopers say their aim is to catch the repeat offender versus the casual driver who makes an honest mistake.


FHP troopers deploy, use cameras to crack down on SunPass toll cheaters

Published on Friday, October 27, 2006
in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Some people will do anything to avoid a 75-cent toll on Florida’s Turnpike.

They hide from the cameras designed to catch them, obscure their tags with plastic sleeves, spray their plates with a photo blocker, even use their hands to shield the numbers.

Fed up with toll cheats, troopers swarmed turnpike plazas across the state Thursday, the start of a major blitz to reduce the number of toll evaders. Scores of motorists were snared in the first few hours of the sting, each netting an $87.50 fine in Broward County and $88.50 in Palm Beach County.

“It’s either pay now or pay later,” said Lt. Roger Reyes of the highway patrol. “Would you rather pay 75 cents now or $87.50 later?”

Toll evaders drove off with $20 million in lost revenue last year, barreling through SunPass lanes even though they don’t have the windshield-mounted device that automatically deducts tolls.

That infuriates drivers like Carlos Marrero, of Lake Worth, who bought SunPass for the convenience of not stopping at a tollbooth to pay cash.

“If they don’t want to pay, then they shouldn’t be using the turnpike,” Marrero said.

About 4 percent of all turnpike drivers sneak through toll plazas without paying, which is about the national average of other toll roads, according to Florida turnpike officials. Only 1 percent are the most habitual offenders, evading the system dozens of times.

Although cameras are poised at every plaza to catch scofflaws by shooting photos of their license plates, that hasn’t stopped some drivers from skipping the tolls. Officials don’t know exactly how many motorists don’t pay, because some do it repeatedly and others periodically.

In the first six months of this year, the turnpike’s top five offenders racked up 1,241 violations and owe $1,303.

The turnpike had 22 million unpaid toll transactions last year totaling $20 million in lost revenue, toll operations director Evelio Suarez said. That’s up $9 million from two years earlier.

Officials attribute the increase to the rapid expansion of SunPass lanes.

In 2003, there were 143 SunPass lanes statewide. Today, there are 208 SunPass lanes for drivers who pay tolls electronically.

One driver Thursday morning stopped in the Cypress Creek plaza’s SunPass-only lanes, displaying confusion after realizing he had driven into the wrong lane and wanted to pay with cash.

“Go! Go on!” Reyes shouted and waved at the driver.

From motorists who were pulled over, the highway patrol heard such excuses as “I left my SunPass transponder in another car,” “I don’t do this very often” and “I’m driving a rental car that doesn’t have SunPass.”

Troopers say their aim is to catch the repeat offender, not the casual turnpike driver who makes an honest mistake. One call to the turnpike’s SunPass center verifies whether the driver has a history of toll violations, said Chief Jim Lee, commander of the turnpike’s highway patrol unit.

“We obviously can’t be at all plazas 24 hours a day. This is just a deterrent,” Lee said.

Each SunPass-only lane is equipped with a blue light that flashes when a driver doesn’t pay or if his or her SunPass isn’t working. Nearby troopers and state motor carrier officers swoop in as soon as the light goes on.

Troopers also are being given “hot lists” of repeat offenders that indicate the time of day they’re traveling through toll plazas and a description of the cars.

Desiree Russano, of Boca Raton, said she hoped troopers wouldn’t take the place of cameras, which are supposed to catch toll cheaters.

“I thought that’s what the cameras were there for,” Russano said. “I’ve driven by accidents or people stranded by the side of the road and there were no troopers in sight to help.”

Reyes said off-duty troopers or those working overtime are participating in the crackdown, assuring that troopers aren’t pulled from regular duties.

Jim Ely, the turnpike’s executive director, said the turnpike will switch to a tougher fine program over the next few months. Currently, drivers caught on camera don’t get a $25 fine until the third violation.

Under the new system, first-time violators have 21 days to pay the toll before a $25 fine is issued. Violators will have 30 days to pay the fine before the matter is turned over to the court. At that point, a judge could suspend the motorist’s license or vehicle registration.

It’s illegal to obscure or alter license plates in Florida, although the law doesn’t specifically mention photo-blocking sprays created to foil cameras that catch toll cheats.

“This is not a gotcha program. This is all about fairness for everyone,” Ely said.


Catching scofflaws a toll order

Published on Friday, October 27, 2006
in the Palm Beach Post

To say some people will go to any length to avoid paying tolls on Florida’s Turnpike is not a stretch.

Like the motorcyclist who extended his legs on the seat of the bike to cover the license tag with his shoes.

Or the passenger in the open hatchback of a car who reached down with his hand to hide the numbers on the license plate.

Those are just a couple of the scams captured by cameras at toll plazas around the state.

On Thursday, turnpike officials and the Florida Highway Patrol announced a crackdown on toll violators called “Toll Abuse. No Excuse.”

The stepped-up enforcement is targeting hard-core offenders, turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said. Authorities have identified 11 people with 125 to 149 violations, nine with 150 to 174 violations, six with 175 to 275 violations and one with a staggering 489.

“If you go through the lanes without a SunPass in your car, then you are liable to get a ticket,” said Chief Jim Lee, commander of the FHP’s turnpike troop, who helped kick off the campaign from the Lantana toll plaza. “We want to not only make sure those that are violating are caught, but to act as a deterrent for future activities.”

Accounting for unpaid tolls is part of the day-to-day operation of the state’s 600 miles of toll roads and bridges.

The temptation has increased with the opening of more unstaffed and ungated SunPass lanes that allow drivers to pay electronically. The first full SunPass-only exit opened in July at the Beeline Highway in Palm Beach Gardens.

During the 2006 fiscal year, the loss was estimated at $20 million, about 3.5 percent of toll revenue collected for the year and much more than the $12.8 million price tag for a new interchange at Jog Road near West Palm Beach. That’s up from $17 million last year and $11 million two years ago.

The dimes, quarters and dollars collected at toll booths are the state’s main source of revenue for improvements to the turnpike system. The money is used as collateral to issue bonds to pay for new lanes, protective barriers next to canals and high-tech toll plazas.

FHP troopers and officers from the Florida Department of Transportation’s motor carrier compliance office will spend more time at toll plazas, particularly ones with a high number of violations. Billboards, signs and banners will go up along the highway and at rest areas alerting motorists to the campaign. Word also will go out on radio traffic reports.

Other images from toll booth cameras show motorists using CDs and envelopes to cover their license plates to avoid being caught on video.

As part of the crackdown, the turnpike intends to change its rules, which give drivers two free passes. No action is taken after the first violation and a warning letter is sent after the second offense. After the third, the driver is sent a citation.

Florida is one of the few states that still uses “progressive enforcement,” and needs to change to keep up advancements in electronic toll technology, said James Ely, the turnpike’s executive director.

The new policy will offer no forgiveness. A notice will be sent on the first violation and if the money is not paid in 30 days, a traffic citation will be filed in court. The citation carries a $118.50 fine in Palm Beach County.

The turnpike also will ask the state legislature to toughen laws on unpaid tolls.

One proposal would add the overdue toll to the amount of the fine. Repeat offenders – those with 10 violations within a three-year period – would lose their license for 60 days.

Ely intends to address the problem at the national level as incoming president of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. He is planning a toll enforcement summit to share ideas.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who drive Florida’s Turnpike are hard-working, honest people,” Ely said. “This program is designed for the 1 percent who don’t pay. It’s just not fair.”


FHP cracking down on Turnpike toll violators

Published on Thursday, October 26, 2006
in the WSVN News

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY. Fla. (WSVN) — The Florida Highway Patrol will be cracking down on drivers who are getting free rides on the Florida Turnpike.

As a part of the “Toll Abuse — No Excuse” campaign, FHP has joined with the Florida Turnpike in an effort to stop drivers from racing through the SunPass Lane of the turnpike without paying.

FHP officials say most violators are using their SunPasses incorrectly on purpose. “What we’re finding is that a large number of commercial motor vehicles — dump trucks, tractor trailers, whatever — are going through these facilities without having their SunPass present or properly mounted, and intentionally violating SunPass lane restrictions,” said Lt. Chris Dellapietra of the FHP.

Troopers will be randomly stationed at Turnpike toll plazas throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties giving citations to anyone who violates toll regulations. “In most cases, a citation for violation of tolls is a $103.50 fine and will be three points on that driver’s record,” Dellapietra said.

Tolls are used to help improve and maintain the Turnpike and officials say, to be fair, all tolls need to be paid. “Ninety-nine percent of our customers are good customers,” said Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller, spokesperson for the Florida’s Turnpike. “They are honest people who do the right thing and they pay their fair share. But, we have 1% out there that is continuously going through the tolls, and we are coming down on them.”

Last year alone the turnpike lost $20 million to toll violations.


Troopers on lookout for toll scofflaws

Published on Thursday, October 26, 2006
in the Miami Herald

Jose, Jose, wherever you are: The Florida Highway Patrol is hunting for you — and thousands of prolific toll-dodging scofflaws just like you.

The South Florida man, whose last name the FHP won’t disclose due to privacy laws, ranks No. 1 on the Florida’s Turnpike ignominious list of motorists who flagrantly blast through the electronic SunPass toll lanes without a transponder.

Jose has run the gate at least 589 times on the turnpike, cheating the state out of $543.95 in tolls and untold thousands in civil fines that he has failed to address in traffic court.

He’s not alone.

Toll-dodging deadbeats like Jose cost the turnpike nearly $22 million last year, up from $17 million in 2005 and $11 million in 2004, said turnpike executive director Jim Ely. And those figures do not include millions more that are lost by local expressway authorities in Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

To combat the rising tide of violators, on Thursday the Highway Patrol and the turnpike kicked off an enforcement and education campaign aimed at repeat offenders. Troopers and other law enforcement officers wrote 50 citations and issued 88 warnings at high violation toll plazas like Bird Road in Miami-Dade, Cypress Creek Road in Broward and Lantana in Palm Beach.

Some Floridians have resorted to incredibly extreme — and in some cases, unsafe — measures to obscure their license plates from toll plaza surveillance cameras, said FHP Chief Jim Lee, commander of the 460-mile turnpike system.

Motorists have wedged everything from envelopes to compact discs inside the license plate protective guards to partially block their plate numbers. Others have duct-taped paper directly over the plate.

”I think the worst one that I’ve personally seen was a commercial [truck] driver who put mortar mix and troweled it right across part of the plate,” Lee said. “There was no way that this was a little bit of concrete that just dripped and fell off.”

FHP and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority recently nailed a nimble motorcyclist who routinely skipped tolls on both systems, said MDX deputy director Steve Andriuk.

Cameras repeatedly showed the man leaning forward on his high-speed ”crotch rocket,” wrapping his legs, Yoga-style, around the back of the bike and covering the plate with his tennis shoes. He was eventually caught because of distinctive markings on his helmet, Andriuk said.

Another surveillance photo widely circulated among toll road operators and consultants shows a motorcyclist steering his bike through a toll plaza with his right hand, while leaning back and using his left to cover the plate, then deploying the universal single-digit salute of defiance as a finishing touch.

Sometimes people will go to unsafe extremes to beat a $1 toll, like the man who rode in the open trunk of his friends’ moving car so he could lean out and cover the plate as they passed through the toll plaza.

And then there are the blatant violators like Jose who don’t even try to cover their plates. But he is far from a one-man rolling crime wave.

Between January and June , the turnpike said, 1,153 people plowed through the SunPass lanes 25 to 45 times without paying; 236 did it between 50 and 74 times; and 84 between 75 and 99 times.

Ely and Lee said the Turnpike and police need help from the Legislature to bring toll-dodging abuses under control.

Part of the problem, they admit, is that most of the violations are civil infractions that don’t carry substantial monetary penalties. In most communities, penalties generally start at $25.

The turnpike and FHP want to ban products, such as invisible spray ”films,” sold over the Internet, that are designed to obscure license plates, especially at night.

They are also going to ask for the power to suspend for 60 days the driver’s license of anyone with 10 violations in a three-year period.

”It’s really a fairness issue,” Ely said. “We have millions of customers who pay their fair share every day, and a small but growing number of people who don’t. It’s just not right to those honest people who pay every day.”


FHP cracks down on toll violators

Published on Thursday, October 26, 2006
in the Palm Beach Post

Turnpike officials and the Florida Highway Patrol this morning announced a crackdown on toll violators, called “Toll Abuse. No Excuse.”

FHP troopers and officers from the Florida Department of Transportation’s motor carrier compliance office will spend more time at toll plazas, particularly ones with a high number of violations.

Billboards, signs and banners will go up along the highway and at rest areas alerting motorists to the campaign. Word also will go out on radio traffic reports.

The stepped-up enforcement is targeting hard-core offenders, turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said. Authorities have identified 11 people with 125 to 149 violations, nine individuals with 150 to 174 violations, six toll abusers with 175 to 275 violations and one person with more than 276 violations.

Images from toll booth cameras show motorists using feet, hands, CDs and envelopes to cover their license plates to avoid being caught on video.

As part of the crackdown, the turnpike intends to change its rules, which give drivers two free passes. Now, no action is taken after the first violation and a warning letter is sent following the second offense. After the third violation, the driver is sent a traffic citation.

Florida is one of the few states that still uses “progressive enforcement,” and needs to change to keep up advancements in electronic toll technology, said James Ely, the turnpike’s executive director.

The new policy will offer no forgiveness. A notice will be sent on the first violation and if the money is not paid in 30 days, a traffic citation will be filed in court. The citation carries a $118.50 fine in Palm Beach County.

The turnpike also will ask the state Legislature to toughen laws on unpaid tolls.


FHP Crackdown On Toll Booth Cheaters

Published on Thursday, October 26, 2006
in the CBS4 News

“Toll Abuse, No Excuse” campaign

Drivers caught not paying tolls will get a $87.50 ticket

POMPANO BEACH A lot of us don’t like paying tolls but cheating at the tolls is a problem that’s costing the state $20 million so now Florida Highway Patrol troopers are cracking down on toll booth cheaters.

FHP officials have launched a new campaign called “Toll Abuse, No Excuse” which is designed to ticket drivers who shortchange the state by driving through SunPass lanes without a SunPass.

The “Toll Abuse, No Excuse” campaign is taking place in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

CBS4’S Joan Murray rode along with an FHP trooper Thursday morning who pulled over and ticketed several drivers for blowing through the tolls without paying.

The excuses came fast and furious, excuses like “I left my SunPass at home”, and “the battery in my SunPass died”. There’s also the popular, “I left my SunPass in my other car.” But troopers aren’t taking any excuses, they’re simply ticketing the drivers who go through tolls without paying.

The state says the Turnpike lost $20 million last year and that’s money that could have built a new interchange, according to Turnpike authorities.

Remember, troopers have heard all the excuses. So if you don’t have your SunPass transponder or it’s not working, go through a regular lane or an attendant lane and pay the toll or risk paying an even higher price, a $87.50 ticket if you go through without paying.