Washington State House Democrats


Fairness for 520 bridge drivers gets green light from Legislature

Highway520700x350Drivers on the SR 520 bridge will get a chance to plead their cases before a judge if they feel they got unfairly penalized for not paying a toll on time – and they can have the penalty thrown out if the judge buys their argument, under a bill by Rep. Cyrus Habib that won final legislative passage today.

“This bill gives us an opportunity to advance both due process and consumer protection in our tolling system,” Habib, D-Kirkland, said.

The 97-0 vote in the House to accept Senate amendments sends the measure to the governor for his signature. The Senate added requirements for clearer markings on envelopes containing payment notices that are mailed to drivers and for annual reports on the penalty-appeals process.

Currently, judges in the state’s special “toll court” don’t have the authority to reduce or waive penalties assessed for late payment of tolls on the bridge, regardless of circumstances. House Bill 1941 gives the judges the leeway to do that after hearing from the penalized driver.

“Most drivers pay the tolls,” Habib said, “and those that try to avoid payment on purpose should of course be penalized. But sometimes, it’s not their fault – and everyone should have a chance to make their case.”

Tolls were first imposed on the 520 bridge last year, but there are no traditional booths for collecting them. Instead, electronic sensors detect a windshield-mounted transponder that a driver has acquired in advance and linked to a prepaid or online account – or, if the driver has not installed a transponder, the license plate of the vehicle is photographed and the owner is billed by mail for the toll.

But as described in news articles, in some cases the bill never arrived in the mail or was not forwarded to the vehicle owner’s new address, triggering penalties for delays in making payment: $5 after a 15-day lapse, and another $40 after an 80-day lapse, for each crossing of the bridge.

Habib’s bill does not excuse unfairly penalized drivers from paying the actual toll.