San Francisco woman says clerical problem with Fastrak led to thousands in fines

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Most people who use Fastrak know how convenient it can be. KTVU met a San Francisco woman who doesn't have Fastrak, for whom a clerical problem has turned into thousands of dollars in fines and led to an impounded car.

Chereese Benton took a trip to the DMV that she never thought she would have to take. "I had to transfer my car title to my friend's name because Fastrak and DMV have me in such a crazy bind."

It started last year when the San Francisco resident got a job as a stylist in Marin.

Without Fastrak, Benton was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, which has automated toll taking. You can pay the toll online within two days or an invoice is sent to your address - and that's where the breakdown happened with Benton, because she had moved two years earlier.

"I changed my address with the DMV and Fastrak numerous times, and they kept sending my invoices to the wrong address."

KTVU talked to John Goodwin from the Bay Area Toll Authority, "We've got a couple of different issues here. One is the inescapable fact that computers are stupid things."

Benton never received the invoices, so never paid the tolls. She tried to pay some of them a few months ago, but then they had already compounded with fines.

"It appears for whatever reason, that through her work with the DMV, that that registration database had not been updated with her new address," said Goodwin.

"So, when I called and went in, it was already too late and it was $4,000 in DMV holds and charges," said Benton.

That's a sum she cannot pay, for a problem she says she did not cause. Last week, her car was towed.

Since Benton couldn't afford to clear the fines, she decided to take that different route. "Gave my car away because I can't afford to get it registered," said Benton. But that's on paper only.

Together, the women were able to get Benton's car back, but it still cost her $2,200 dollars.

"This is an unusual but not unprecedented situation," said Goodwin, adding that this kind of problem shouldn't be hard to resolve.

"When dealing with the Fastrak customer service center, that folks know that they have an opportunity if they're not receiving satisfaction right away, ask to have the case escalated to the management."

But Benton said she tried that. "I emailed a manager back and forth a couple times, then they put another manager, they want to email another manager, and like no one's helpful."

Because even managers were no help, and because this ordeal cost her so much money, and because it's still unresolved, Benton is now considering filing a lawsuit.