Dramatic drop in bridge toll fare cheats

The Bay Area Toll Authority says a new state law requiring California car dealers to put temporary, numbered license plates on all cars sold is starting to pay off.

A KTVU investigation first drew attention to the problems of generic dealer plates six years ago, prompting Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin from the Peninsula to craft the new law.

The Temporary DMV License Plate Program took effect Jan. 1 and now, more money is rolling in as vehicles roll by the bay area toll crossings, according to John Goodwin with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission which oversees the area toll bridges, except the Golden Gate bridge.

No longer is it legal for vehicles to have paper dealer plates or placards on newly purchased cars, which allowed drivers to go unidentified by cameras and avoid paying tolls.

"It's really been dramatic," said Goodwin. "A year ago, we were losing roughly $1 million a month in toll revenue at the toll bridges. That number has been reduced to $250,000."

Goodwin says there's been a dramatic 79% drop in dealer placard crossings, from the 2018 monthly average of 190,000 vehicles per month to 40,000 vehicles in May.

Each toll crossing costs anywhere from $4 to $7, adding up to a lot of money.

"If we maintain the current pace it will increase toll bridge revenue by approximately $8 million," said Goodwin.

KTVU first reported on the dealer plate loophole in 2013 and found the state was losing nearly $11 million per year in uncollected tolls.

Raymond Venegas, sales manager at Oakland Kia says so far, they've had no problems with the new temporary plate system.

"There hasn't been any hiccups. At first obviously, it's a new system, so learning that,  but other than that it's been smooth," said Venegas.

California registered 1.3 million temporary plates for newly purchased vehicles from January through May.

Goodwin says there have been some problems, including plates printed with inconsistent lettering, cameras not being able to read the state name California, and a lack of adhesive on the bottom, allowing the temporary plate to flip up.

Also, there are concerns the expiration date is too small for cameras or law enforcement to easily read.

Goodwin says the DMV hopes to make the temporary license plate modifications by November.

The recouped toll revenue, he says, will be used to fund improvement projects.