Consolidated Class Action Suit Filed Against Toll Roads Over Cashless Tolls

The agencies tasked with financing and operating Orange County’s toll roads violated state consumer protection laws and deprived motorists of constitutional due process when they switched to an all-electronic, cashless toll payment system in 2014, a consolidated class action lawsuit filed by Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck alleges.

The complaint in In re Toll Roads Litigation consolidates multiple related class action cases that were previously pending in Orange County and was filed by class counsel Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck in conjunction with Lindemann Law Firm APC, Cuneo Gilbert & Laduca LLP and Audet & Partners LLP. The plaintiffs accuse the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency and the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency of misconduct in processing, reviewing, and collecting toll evasion penalties without giving drivers adequate notice and a fair opportunity for a hearing.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, or TCAs, operate and maintain the Toll Roads, which are owned by the state of California and include Highways 73, 133, 241 and 261 in Orange County. Historically, fees from the Toll Roads were collected at physical tollbooths. However, in May 2014, the Toll Roads converted to an all-electronic, online system in which drivers not enrolled with the TCA’s programs must proactively pay their tolls online within five days. Owners who fail to do so are immediately charged with toll evasion, assessed a $57.50 penalty, and sent a “Notice of Toll Evasion” which threatening a lien on their vehicle registration, by mail. Those who fail to pay the penalty within 15 days are assessed an additional $42.50 delinquency penalty.

This, according to plaintiffs’ counsel Helen Zeldes, violates drivers’ right to due process under the state constitution and constitutes an unfair business practice in violation of state law.

“The only form of notice the defendants provide to drivers of their obligation to pay their tolls online are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it signs along the Toll Roads,” Zeldes said. “The signs provide no notice that drivers will be photographed and cited, and drivers can’t reasonably be expected to see, read, and understand the import of these signs or the next steps they must take while driving, especially if they’re tourists from out of town or simply unfamiliar with the area.”

The complaint also alleges that this system of toll payment discriminates against seniors and economically disadvantaged people who may not have immediate access to the Internet.

“The upshot to the new Toll Roads regime is that we believe they’re now processing more violations per year than before they switched to the electronic system,” Zeldes said. ”The downside for everyday drivers is that they’re paying fees that are as much or even more than 13 times the amount of their toll and being subjected to vehicle registration liens. How is that fair for consumers?”

In addition, the case targets the Orange County Transportation Authority, which operates the Toll Road on the 91 Freeway, and 3M Company and BRiC-TPS LLP, administrative entities retained by TCA to manage the Toll Roads’ customer service functions. According to Zeldes, many vehicle owners have complained of difficulties navigating TCA’s system and online platform, and the complaint alleges that the agencies failed to provide adequate staff to respond to mailed, online, and telephonic inquiries.

The complaint alleges that TCA saw a 400 percent increase in calls to its customer service line and a 300 percent increase in emails after it converted to the cashless system. Between June and August 2014, the TCA answered an average 2,200 calls per day. More than 11,000 went unanswered.

CONSUMERS: Have you received a notice of violation for failing to pay cashless tolls on Highways 73, 91, 133, 241, or 261 in California? Contact Helen Zeldes at helenz@zhlaw.com for a consultation.