ERC settles with Portsmouth man who owed over $21,000 in tolls

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Elizabeth River Crossings has reached a settlement with a Portsmouth resident who owed more than $21,000 in tolls and skyrocketing fees.

Michael Farrell settled with ERC on Tuesday. He appeared in court to have charges for failing to pay tolls dismissed. Outside court he said, “It was self-defeating, and kind of embarrassing.”

Farrell told us in March how it got so far out of hand and how he fell so far behind.

“My responder stopped working. I was unaware of that at first, and then, well part of it was my fault, and it got out of control, and it spiraled way out of control, and I couldn’t take care of it.”

Farrell added that he had an issue with his credit card, and it was put on hold and so the charges weren’t showing up on the card. He claims he never received any of the charges in the mail.

Portsmouth man who owes over $21,000 in tolls goes to court

Farrell is not alone; thousands of others have outstanding bills and they reach into the thousands of dollars.

Here’s how Farrell’s story played out: Since 2014, Farrell took 1,206 toll trips. The total was $4,221 in the toll portion of those trips.

Then he had $17,094 in late fees that compounded. He then owed a total of $21,315. He settled for the new Virginia Law amount of $2,200 which was passed by the General Assembly. He saved $19,000 and over $2,000 in the toll portion of the bill alone.

Farrell benefited by the savings in paying less to cross the tunnels, and he didn’t pay since 2014. 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox asked him about that.

“I think it was a faulty system to begin with,” Farrell said. “I don’t feel like I worked the system. I just think justice was served in the end. Their system was so out of whack they couldn’t keep up with everything.”

That appears to be true, because ERC’s new CEO Philip Shucet is making the settling of past bills priority number one.

“We want people to pay their bills, get an E-ZPass, pay the cheapest toll and we are all moving forward,” Shucet said.

ERC’s new philosophy emerged following a 10 On Your Side Investigation comparing ERC’s exorbitant fees to the Jordan Bridge’s modest fees.

Tale of two tolls: Comparing the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge to ERC tunnels

Farrell’s attorney Stephen Heretick says this is a different ERC.

“Here’s what I can tell you in terms of collection practices: It is a different thing. We have you to thank for that, we have Governor McAuliffe, and we have most of my colleagues in the General Assembly.”

Heretick mentioned specifically Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones, who put forth the bill that capped late fees for first time toll offenders at $2,200, and Portsmouth Delegate Matthew James.

Heretick credits Shucet for curbing fees, and cutting deals to clean up the back log of unpaid toll bills.

“Since Mr. Shucet came over, it is fundamentally a different company to deal with.”

As for Farrell, no more delinquent bills.

“They have been fair, yes, and my E-ZPass is up to date, and I don’t have to go through this ordeal again,” he said.

If you have a big toll bill to settle, ERC wants to hear from you. The deadline is July 3 before they start charging a $25 monthly invoice fee. Customers with questions about the new fee structure, settlements or toll bills can call the ERC Customer Care Center toll-free at 855-378-7623.