ALEXANDRIA, Va. - For more than a year now, FOX 5 has been telling you about drivers on E-ZPass Express Lanes in Virginia accidentally missing tolls and getting hit with thousands of dollars in fines.
Chief Investigative Reporter Emily Miller exposed those cases and led to the company changing its policies and capping fines. But some of the drivers who we profiled have joined a federal class action lawsuit against Transurban, the company that manages the E-ZPass lanes. In the first pretrial hearing, Transurban argued that the case should be dismissed.
FOX 5 first introduced you to Joe Mischler a year ago when he was smacked with a $17,000 fine for missing just $36 in tolls. He used the E-ZPass Express Lanes for his commute from Maryland to Virginia.
"It's not the dollar or two dollars or three dollars they advertise. It's three dollars, plus 40, plus 250, plus a thousand," said Mischler.
After Mischler's story aired, FOX 5 was flooded with calls and emails from E-ZPass users who also had thousands of dollars in fines. Many of those people are part of the lawsuit against Transurban.
"You have people who have E-ZPass transponders who are trying to comply, and through some glitch end up with a few dollars of unpaid tolls, and then find out they're owed -- they're owing -- they're being told to pay thousands of dollars, said attorney Hamish Hume. "And then maybe they'll settle for $2,000 instead of $5,000. That's what this case is about. It's these excessive fines, hundreds of times the unpaid toll."
In federal court in Virginia Thursday, Transurban asked for the case to be dismissed. If the judge lets it go forward, tens of thousands of people could potentially join the suit.
"They themselves admit they are issuing approximately 70 summonses a day. That adds up to thousands -- over 20,000, maybe over 25,000 over the year," said Hume.
After our stories first aired last year, Transurban tried to fix the problem by offering a first time forgiveness program and capping the fines.
"We're continuing to focus on our customers, not only those customers that receive an invoice, but as you and I have discussed in the past too, the vast majority of our customers have no issues because they have that E-ZPass mounted. The toll is deducted from it," said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.
As for Mischler, he recently got two more fines for his E-ZPass transponder missing tolls. That was the last straw.
"I refuse to use those E-ZPass lanes anymore," Mischler said.
His commute from his Maryland home to his Virginia office yesterday took more than two hours.
Judge James Cacheris said he would take several weeks to rule on Transurban's request to dismiss the suit. If the judge decides that any or all of the case moves forward, Hume expects many more people to join in the lawsuit to get their money back.