Stop Ahead. Pay Toll. If You Want To.

ABOUT 6,3 00 TIMES A DAY, SOMEONE LIKE “Andy” zips through a tollbooth for a free ride on the Dallas North Tollway, undaunted by flashing red lights, ringing bells, and the threat of surveillance cameras. That means about two percent of the drivers on the Tollway each day don’t pay. At 25 to 50 cents a pop, that translates into lost revenue of $575,000 to $1.1 million a year.

“1 almost never pay,” says the proud freeloader who commutes daily via the Tollway. “And why should I?”

Well, what about those cameras, Andy?

“I don’t believe there really are any.”

He’s right. It’s been somewhat of a free-for-all on the Tollway since Sept. 1, 1995. That’s when the Texas Turnpike Authority was supposed to have 38 new video cameras ready for installation. But a problem with the contractor means it will probably be April before the cameras are ready. Meanwhile, state troopers-who used to issue about 10 tickets ($75 each) a day-have ceased their stakeouts.

The video cameras, which will be periodically moved to different tollbooths, are the latest attempt at making motorists think twice before blowing by the collection basket. Three years ago, still cameras were used in a five-month crackdown on violators, who received a $5 ticket in the mail (50 cents for the toll, and $4.50 for administrative costs).

“That reduced the problem to the point that it was no longer cost-efficient to keep going after them,” says Jerry Shelton, director of Administration at the Turnpike Authority. So the cameras were removed, except at the Wycliff plaza, where they took pictures of license plates “very infrequently. ” Legally, the Turnpike Authority can charge up to $100; but even once the new cameras are operative, it intends to keep the penalty at that $5 wrist-slap level. Ouch.

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