Why aren’t more drivers settling their toll bills with Elizabeth River Crossings?

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side is on toll patrol with some questions about why more people aren’t settling back bills with Elizabeth River Crossings.

On Tuesday, WAVY’s Andy Fox spoke to Michael Farrell, who was able to settle his $21,000 bill including late fees for $2,200. That is a big discount, and a lot less than a normal toll bill, so why wouldn’t people come forward and just do it?

Everyone has to pay the toll, but what we have learned is unreasonable skyrocketing late fees are just that — unreasonable and in most cases, forgiven. It is clear the hatred for the late fees impacted the paying of the bill all together. ERC wants to work with you and cut a deal so both sides can move on. If you have a DMV hold, it’ll be released, but you have to call ERC.

“ERC has been generous with people,” ERC CEO Philip Shucet said.

Shucet says ERC has been fair to people like Farrell. He took an ERC settlement offer and had to only pay 50 cents on the dollar for the toll portion only of his bill.

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

Andy Fox read that quote to Shucet, who responded, “That’s not a bad statement. We were late getting out invoices. Some people were confused, and I don’t think people are working the system.”

On Farrell’s case Shucet says, “He settled for $2,200…that’s the commitment we made. He owed over $2,200, but all those people — the 20,000 people — they can get the same deal. All they have to do is call us.”

Here’s the problem: Shucet says people aren’t calling. ERC has sent 20,000 settlement letters. Of those, 11,000 people owed between $2,200 and $5,000; 5,000 owed between $5,000 and $8,000; and another 4,000 owed more than $8,000.

“They all can greatly benefit from the settlement,” Shucet said. “Those letters have not generated a lot of response.”

Why not?

“I think it’s because $2,200 is still a big number,” Shucet responded.

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Shucet says the hatred for ERC runs so deep that, “Two or three people tore up settlement checks we sent to them because they thought it was just mail from ERC. Then they realized it was a check. We canceled the check and reissued the check.”

Here is an even more alarming statistic of the 20,000 settlement letters: Before our Tuesday report with Michael Farrell, 350 people had settled. Following that report and up until 3 p.m. Wednesday, that number climbed to 615. That is still only three percent of those qualified to settle.

Shucet thinks hatred towards ERC could be at play.

“This project had a lot of attention paid to it, and that created some ill will, and we’ve talked to some folks who said, ‘I’m just not going to get an E-ZPass.'”

It is clear ERC miscalculated because so many people didn’t get the E-ZPass and they opted for the more expensive pay-by-plate.

“I don’t think people are trying to get a free ride… I have more faith in humanity than that,” Shucet added.

He thinks it is more about socioeconomic status. People are poorer, without credit cards or checking accounts and are forced to go across the tunnels the most expensive way with pay by plate and then skyrocketing late fees, and they just can’t pay.

It is also clear ERC grossly miscalculated the impact and reasonableness of the late fees.

“We want to settle as much of this history as we can,” Shucet said.

Social media, customer service and push alerts from Shucet are helping get people to settle. July 3 is a restart date of sorts for ERC. New late fees of $25 per monthly invoice will be applied to accounts that are 30 days past due. Unsettled old bills and DMV holds remain until bills are settled.

If you have a big toll bill to settle, ERC wants to hear from you. 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.