The Thruway Authority is promising fewer headaches with Western New York's version of cashless tolling than what's happened elsewhere in the state.
When the new cashless system on the I-190 over Grand Island goes into effect near the end of the month, drivers who don't have an E-ZPass should have an easier time dealing with billing problems than what motorists who use the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge between Rockland and Westchester counties have had to handle.
That's what the head of the authority told reporters Wednesday during a news conference announcing that the cashless system over Grand Island will be operational sometime late on March 29 or early March 30.
For motorists who have encountered billing problems after using the Cuomo bridge, the customer service system "needed improvement," Executive Director Matthew Driscoll said.
Motorists have complained about not receiving bills and then getting hit with large fines, as well as facing difficulty in resolving disputes over bills, according to a series of reports in The Journal News.
One of the companies the state contracts with for the operation of its cashless tolling system is the New Jersey-based Conduent. Cashless tolling went into effect at the Cuomo bridge in April 2016.
"Conduent has worked with us, but I'm not satisfied," Driscoll said. "... We continue to expect and demand an improvement in services and I'm confident that we're going to get that."
Improvements made by Conduent have included adding additional staff and making corrections to its system, including being able to handle a large amount of phone calls, he said.
Tolls over Grand Island will still be collected, but the transaction will happen when motorists drive under a gantry at each end of the island, instead of at the toll booths.
It will take three phases of construction to remove the toll barriers, which will happen with adjustments to traffic patterns, the authority said. No timetable was given for toll booth removal.
"That will take just a little bit of time," Driscoll said.
There will be no changes to the amount motorists are charged for tolls under the cashless collection system.
The authority is also making a push to get drivers to sign up for E-ZPass, the tags motorists can affix to the inside of their windshield which correspond to a personal account from which tolls are automatically deducted.
The authority unveiled a new commercial featuring former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, encouraging those who don't have E-ZPass to get one.
Once the cashless system is in place, drivers without an E-ZPass will have a picture taken of their license plate. Motorists who travel beneath one of the gantries may immediately go online to tollsbymailny.com and pay the toll. If they don't, a bill will be mailed after 30 days to the address of the registered owner of the vehicle.
If a motorist does not respond to the first bill, another bill will be sent after 60 days. After 100 days, a $50 fee will be applied to the original bill amount, Driscoll said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for the entire Thruway system in the state, including the Williamsville and Lackawanna tolls, to be cashless by sometime in 2020. No specific timetable was offered Wednesday about when those toll barriers would become cashless.