So much for the honor system as a way of paying bridge tolls.
Motorists without an E-ZPass transponder have submitted less than $50 in voluntary toll payments for crossing the Sakonnet River Bridge in the first 45 days of a new 10-cent toll. That's compared to $80,000 in the same time period from drivers with a transponder, who pay automatically whenever they use the span connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton.
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority asked motorists without an E-ZPass to voluntarily remit their toll payments when the toll went into effect in August.
The bridge has no toll booths. The authority planned to implement a higher toll and use cameras to record the plates of drivers without transponders so they could be billed through the mail. That plan was put on hold when lawmakers blocked the higher toll and capped it at a dime. Mailing invoices for a 10-cent toll wouldn't have been cost effective.
More than half of the motorists using the bridge have E-ZPasses, according to Beth Bailey, a spokeswoman for the authority. She said that on average, more than 32,000 cars use the bridge every day - meaning the authority is owed thousands of dollars for tolls that have yet to be paid.
Some of them have E-ZPass accounts but didn't have the transponder in the vehicle. Other motorists may be waiting to send in a payment once they use the bridge many times, Bailey said.
Drivers using the bridge for free aren't considered toll violators because they haven't been sent an invoice, she said.
Authority Chairman David Darlington has said that after a few months, the authority will review how much money has been collected and may consider billing motorists through the mail.
The 10-cent cap on the toll will expire in the spring, and the toll may go up unless lawmakers find an alternative. The authority's initial plan was for a toll starting at 75 cents for in-state motorists with an E-ZPass.
State lawmakers voted to cap the toll at 10 cents after residents and business owners in the East Bay complained. A legislative commission is now reviewing alternatives.
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