Monday, 1 August 2011

Cross border toll enforcement - Colorado style

One of the perennial problems for toll violations is when people from outside the national or state jurisdiction fail to pay a toll on a free flow toll system. In London it is a problem with foreign registered vehicles from Europe violating the congestion charge. Having said that, the solution has been for Transport for London (as has been the case for parking violations) to sub-contract enforcement of such vehicles to a private company which has arrangements with the authorities in other countries. One report I saw suggested around one-third of foreign vehicle violations were being captured.

In the USA, between states, it should be easier. A recent report indicated that violators from Nebraska who had used the E-470 Denver toll road were now receiving notices of bills. With the withdrawal of toll booth in 2009, an ANPR system was instituted to send bills to those without accounts and to capture violators. Of course it was limited by the ability of the toll road to access name and address details only of owners of vehicles registered in Colorado.

The toll road operator now has access to the Nebraska DMV, and can send bills. About 12,650 were expected to be sent (the toll road operator chose to ignore violations of more than six months previous).

“We sell our license plate data to toll companies across the country,” DMV director Beverly Neth told me. Neth said the Nebraska DMV, in accordance with state law, releases the names of vehicle owners and their addresses when selling its information about the 2.2 million licensed vehicles in the state.

This database information can be sold “for only a few reasons” — toll roads, insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, motor-vehicle-recall data collectors.
“I don't want to leave the impression that we just willy-nilly sell data,” Neth said. Sales of DMV records bring in about $250,000 each year for the DMV, $2 million for the state's general fund and about $1 million for the state agency that handles recordkeeping, she said. So the state collects more than $3 million from DMV database sales, money that would come from Nebraska taxpayers without those sales.

States selling database information to toll road operators ought, of course, to ensure that they don’t onsell the information to others. As long as other states have similar rules to Nebraska about selling such private data, I’m relaxed about that being a way of pursuing enforcement. Otherwise, such government data could be used for marketing purposes or people may use it to snoop on others.

In Europe, it is clearly a big issue for toll operators with freeflow systems, particularly in the Schengen area (borders with no border control). The European Commission has been trying to broker an agreement among Member States to enable cross-border enforcement of a wide range of traffic violations, but has run into some opposition from Member States who want a right of appeal for their citizens. This isn’t an issue that is easy to fix between countries with different legal systems and approaches to handling citizens’ private data, but will need to be addressed if free flow tolling is to be encouraged in Europe.

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