The Bay Area’s Toll Debt Explosion

Categories: Attorneys, Client Story, eNewsletter Story, Homepage, News

A story in yesterday’s East Bay Times and other Bay Area News Group publications by Eliyahu Kamisher features BayLegal attorney Rachel Hoerger and her client Brenda Angulo. Ms. Angulo is one of a growing number of lower-income drivers in the Bay Area affected by the growing web of automated express lane and bridge toll payment systems in the Bay Area.

This transponder-based payment system is plagued by inaccuracies: drivers report charges for vehicles they no longer own, invoices mailed to incorrect addresses, and bills for bridge crossings or express lane entries that are contradicted by their own GPS records. The rapid accrual of late fees and other charges can often lead to bills 1,000% or more above the initial toll charges, and unpaid debts can lead to DMV holds on registrations that leave drivers like Ms. Angulo faced with impossible decisions between paying off thousands of dollars of fees and fines accrued on hundreds of dollars of (not always accurate) tolls, or losing access to transportation for work, school, and family support. And while payment plans and negotiated reductions in fees and fines may be available for some drivers, as Rachel Hoerger points out, access to these options often depends on access to legal representation or networks of support that many lack. These inequities are a central reason why high-quality, free legal services are so critically important—and why our ongoing advocacy for more equitable approaches to fees and fines is such important component of our overall commitment to change systems that entrench poverty and disproportionately impact communities of color.