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July 13, 2012 at 4:53 PM

How to pay a 520 bridge toll for somebody else’s trip

If you are selling a car in Washington state, or might someday, this warning is for you.

Maureen O’Hagan, a reporter here at The Seattle Times, sold her used sedan to someone who later drove it a couple times on the Highway 520 floating bridge. She never owned a Good to Go toll pass, but the 520 cameras clicked the license plate — and a bill for $7.40 was mailed to her.

She filed a state Report of Sale for the VW Golf in February. But it turns out the buyer hadn’t yet filed an application for the car title. In that situation, the state data used by the toll contractor, Electronic Transaction Consultants, still shows the old owner, said Brad Benfield, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing.

O’Hagan says she made four phone calls totaling one hour, and made three inquiries online, and located her vehicle records. She initially wondered aloud if ETCC and Good to Go were conspiring to soak travelers.

“I should have just paid the $7,” she now says. The state has added a $5 processing fee,  which will escalate if the dispute drags much longer. After 80 days, vehicle owners are charged a $40 civil penalty per unpaid trip. “It’s still up in the air,” she says.

She’s not alone. In six months since tolls began on 520, there were 89 cases in which a toll bill was dismissed by an administrative law judge because someone no longer owned the vehicle, according to state Department of Transportation figures. Undoubtedly there are more cases that haven’t reached the 80-day window to trigger a formal penalty and hearing process — or where people simply paid the bill rather than wade through red tape.

So what’s the solution?

Basically, the seller can drag the buyer by the scruff on the neck, figuratively speaking, to a neighborhood licensing agency and watch him sign the new title application. And keep a copy of each paper or online form.

Benfield said one of his own coworkers at DOL sold a used car to a dealership, got a toll bill after it was taken for a test drive, and contacted the dealer to solve the problem.

“It can happen to anybody,” he says.

Here’s how another Times reader paid for someone else’s trip: She forgot to scrape the toll pass off her windshield when she sold the car, so the buyer used her prepaid Good to Go account.

In all, about 92,400 people have reached the civil penalty phase, of which 1,600 bills were dismissed for various reasons, including the 89 challenges by ex-owners, says DOT spokeswoman Patty Michaud.  Here is the official tolling information page, including a hotline number and a link to toll rates.

Comments | Topics: 520, Good to Go, tolling

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