Tolls short-changing drivers in Richmond

Tolls short-changing drivers in Richmond

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Complaints are rolling in over local tolls not registering coins correctly. NBC12 News launched an investigation into why the issue continues to happen.

Both VDOT and RMTA oversee tolls. The Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns and operates the Downtown Expressway, the Powhite Parkway from the Carytown on-ramps to Chippenham (including the on-ramps to Forest Hill), and the Boulevard Bridge.

NBC12 News sorted through two-years worth of data, including customer feedback forms and maintenance reports. We discovered the majority of reports deal with the automated coin machines (ACMs) not registering correctly. Of those reports, the majority of them come from the Downtown Expressway.

When pressed further on why the DTE sees more work orders, RMTA explained it "utilizes two different Automatic Coin Machines (ACM) manufacturers. The ACMs found at the DTE are more sensitive to wet weather conditions and because of this RMTA technical staff is onsite Monday – Friday between 6 am and 7 pm."

"There is also dedicated technical staff on call to handle emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no exceptions. Technical staff is immediately notified by our toll plaza staff when an issue is noticed or a customer complaint is received," stated RMTA in an email.

Each month since January of 2014, nearly one hundred reports or more are made for the ACMs not working properly. Those reports include issues ranging from items clogging the coin basket to the machines "holding coins in escrow."

To clarify, RMTA explained, "after coins are placed into the ACM, the coins are counted and d rop into a secure vault also known as the escrow vault."

So, while there is a coin return under the basket, often the coins are not registering and held in that vault.

The machines are hooked up to an online management system which monitors any issues, notifying technical staff in real-time of any malfunctions. However, the response time ranges from 15 minutes to 60 minutes.

"RMTA staff also conducts daily inspections and all deficiencies are entered into the for scheduled repair," added RMTA in an email.

Issues surrounding ACM malfunctions include, but are not limited to, wet weather conditions, dirty or foreign coins, dollar bills placed in the ACM, and non-coin materials or foreign objects. Maintenance crews often find gum, trash, diapers and soda in the ACM.

RMTA declined to do an interview, but an email does point out the average number of monthly work orders for the Downtown Expressway coin machines add up to be approximately 0.00025% of the approximate 640,000 monthly cash transactions made through the DTE tolls. However, that number only represents the number of malfunctions reported. Many drivers admit to simply scrambling for extra coins.

RMTA urges drivers to call in any issues. The team will work closely with drivers to resolve those issues, while making sure you do not get fined.

Some of the automatic coin machines are between six to 20 years old. The performance of each machine is continuously monitored and those performing below the standard are typically refurbished or replaced.

RMTA notes the automatic coin machines will be re-evaluated for replacement as part of an upcoming Toll Collection System replacement project which is scheduled over the next two years.

Created in 1966 by the Virginia General Assembly, the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority (formerly RMA) is an independent authority and political subdivision. It was formed to build and maintain a toll expressway system for the Metro-Richmond area.

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