Taking on the Tollway

May 13, 2008 8:51:50 PM PDT
An area mom denies racking up $12,000 in tollway fines that resulted in a suspended license.Tollway violations are a case of guilty until proven innocent. One Bolingbrook woman with $12,000 in tollway fines says she's trying to prove that someone else used her license plates to break the law.

"Let me have my license back so I can provide for my children," said Lori Muhammad, one of 8,000 drivers with suspended licenses because of unpaid Illinois tollway violations.

But Muhammad says someone else used her old license plates to tally up the $12,000 in fines and fees.

"He did not have my permission. They were not on my vehicle. They should have been junked," said Muhammad. "I have to suffer; my children have to suffer. I cant get gainful employment."

Muhammad says she never received the tollway notices. But in 2005, she found out her license was suspended and the tollway sold the debt to a collection agency. Muhammad says she's been calling the tollway, the secretary of state's office and other government officials and claims all of them told her the only option was to pay the bill or stop driving.

She admits to driving illegally for work. She's been arrested three times for driving with a suspended license. Twice the charges were dropped. The other case is pending.

"A person with a DUI has a better chance getting a driving permit to drive back and forth to work then a person such as me with a tollway fine for $12,000. I am unable to pay that amount off as a single mom with five children," Muhammad said.

ABC7 contacted the tollway and tollway officials called the secretary of state's office. It discovered one of Muhammad's license plates did not belong on the Jaguar pictured in the most of the violations.

"The secretary of state police, they were able to take a look at those violation photos and determine that the license plate used on the Jaguar is an old style plate that is no longer in circulation and has never been registered to that Jaguar," said Joelle McGinnis, Illinois Tollway.

It's proof that may get Muhammad out of more than $11,000 of the $12,000 in fines. The tollway says she could have done this on her own, but Muhammad says everyone told her the only option to clear her name was to pay the fines.

She's not the only one complaining.

A back log of thousands of violations was recently billed to customers all at once.

"There was a year period when the tollway was transferring from an old system to a new and improved system in that process we did not issue notices but we did collect violation data as it went through," said McGinnis.

The tollway says now 10,000 violation notices are consistently going out every day and says call centers have been upgraded because of complaints of constant busy signals.

Muhammad says her ordeal is a reminder to all drivers to keep an eye on your license plates and your mailbox.

"I am not a criminal. I did not create these fines," said Muhammad.

On Tuesday, tollway officials confirmed that they worked out a deal for Muhammad to pay $300 of the final disputed tolls to clear her name. She should have her license back within a week.

Here's a list of answers to many consumer complaints that the tollway provided us:

Q: Some customers have complained that they've received notices even though they have an I-PASS. Why?

A: I-PASS customers may receive a violation notice for a number of reasons:

? Their credit card is expired ? and they've driven their account negative ? The Tollway has 3,000 CC's expire every day.

? Their balance went negative, but they haven't given us a current mailing or email address - where we would have warned them - BEFORE ? it became a violation.

? They didn't add new license plates to their account ? so we don't know the plate belongs to an I-PASS user

Q: What happens to I-PASS customers who receive a violation notice?

A: If their account is in good standing, but they didn't have current/correct information on file ? license plates, credit card, contact info ? we erase their fines and charge them only for the missed tolls.

Q: What is the Illinois Tollway doing to help customers with questions about violation notices?

A: Call Center - we have been handling about 8,000-11,000 calls on average each day with more than 100 customer service reps on duty. The call center is available 6 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m - 5 p.m. weekends. Web site - The Tollway recently underwent a scheduled upgrade in our eCommerce system, providing greater processing speeds and capacity. This system enhancement may not be apparent to customers using our web site, but behind the scenes it's a significant improvement. On average we have more than 17,500 average daily hits on the I-PASS account management section of our Web site with folks updating and managing Walk-in Customer Service Centers - We have added staff to handle violation issues/questions at our 6 customer service center locations throughout our system and we have had been assisting about 1,800 walk-in customers daily this way.

Q:What does the Tollway do to notify I-PASS users when there are problems with their I-PASS accounts BEFORE violations are recorded?

A: There is nothing we can do to notify a customer when they do not have current license plate information on file, but we can and do notify our customers about a number of other issues. To that end we do try to assist our customers by sending out e-mails, US Postal mail notices and automated phone calls. E-mail notification to I-PASS customers

? Low Balance Notices - 75,000 emails and letters per day

? Credit card is about to expire, is expired or expired last month - 60-70k per month.

? Credit card declined - approximately 1500 emails going out daily US Postal mail notification to I-PASS customers ? letters and Post cards

? Credit card is about to expire, is expired or expired last month - 53,000 per month Automated Phone Calls

? No funds in account - 30,000 automatic phone calls per week

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