PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side is helping settle delinquent Elizabeth River Crossings toll bills. There are 200,000 of them out there, and Thursday was spent working to settle skyrocketing late fees with one appreciative customer.
There are three things you need to know about Virginia Beach resident Chelsea Meade:
- She is active duty military and an Oceana air traffic controller.
- She just got engaged and wants to marry by the end of the year.
- She had an ERC toll bill of $5,400, and couldn’t resolve it.
That’s when she came to 10 On Your Side for help.
“I came to you because I knew you would help me, and you support the military, and I know you are great in getting answers and helping people,” Meade said.
On June 5, Meade got a DMV letter saying there’s a hold on her account, which means no renewing her plates and no driving to work.
“I cried. I didn’t know what else to do,” Meade said. “There’s no way I could pay it. I couldn’t afford it.”
This is what Meade owed:
The late fees are more than eight times the amount of tolls.
“When I called and offered to pay what I owed, they denied my payment. They wanted the $5,400, and I told them I wasn’t able to do it. Then the customer representative said, ‘What am I supposed to make an exception for you?'”
Meade says the problems began when she was stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. She claims she notified DMV and the post office that she was on the Eisenhower, but ERC kept sending notices to her old address in Idaho. She admits people there she knows could have been more aggressive sending her word there was an issue.
“They could have done more, but they didn’t feel comfortable opening my mail,” she said. “I lived in Idaho. There were no tolls. There was only horses. That’s pretty much what you got out there… I can’t afford it, and I think it is unethical for anyone to be forced to pay $4,900 in late fees. Who has $4,900?”
Interestingly, that is the new philosophy at ERC — to stop forcing people to pay exorbitant fees.
WAVY’s Andy Fox hooked Meade up with Rich Gabris, ERC’s Director of Customer Care. He and new ERC CEO Philip Shucet have been instrumental in moving through the thousands of delinquent bills they inherited from the initial ERC administration. They also have changed the culture, which bends toward “just pay your tolls.”
Gabris was aware 10 On Your Side was going to call. He knew the story and was prepared with good news.
“What we can do is charge the tolls of $514, and charge fees of $315. That includes a mandatory $40 charge by DMV to remove a hold on a DMV account. This will bring the late fees into our new fee structure,” he said.
The new structure allows for late fee billing of $25 on an entire monthly statement that is 30 days late. That is very much different from the $5 and $10 on each toll trip for late fees that go 30 and 60 days late respectively. It is clear that is what jacked up the delinquent bills and people got so fed up with that they just refused to pay it.
After calling Gabris, Meade’s new bill is:
FEES: Cut to $315, including the $40 DMV charge
That is a savings of $4,647.
“I can do this and get the hold removed from the DMV account,” Gabris added.
Meade then asked, “Can I pay this over a period of time?”
Gabris agreed to let her pay over two months, and to reinstate the DMV hold immediately with her $500 payment that same day.
Andy Fox asked Meade, “What do you think about that?” She responded, “That is fair. Absolutely.”
“I want to say thank you so much… for doing this… it is more than what I expected,” Meade said to Gabris.
Meade was appreciative of 10 On Your Side’s help, too.
“I reached out to you, and you were able to help me, and then we were able to communicate with ERC, and all this was able to get resolved in a matter of minutes.”
If you are having an issue settling your bill, here is a 10 On Your Side Tip: You must pay the toll part of the bill. If it is above $2,200, it is capped by Virginia law at $2,200 for first time toll offenders.
There seems to be great flexibility to erase the old fees from the old structure. It seems you can pay 11 months at $25 per month or $275; $25 is the new late fee for a month worth of tolls once they get 30 days late. If you need a DMV hold reinstated, that is another mandatory $40 or $315 total fee.
After much reporting, if you are offered this it seems to be the best you can do.
ERC’s CEO Philip Shucet has repeatedly said, “You must pay your tolls. It is the only fair thing to do for the 75,000 who pay tolls each day.”